Opals and Oyster Shells

A stranger handed her a necklace on the street
He said “I know what you are, and I know you’ll be angry with me.
But meet us in the library tomorrow at half past three
And you’ll get the answers you know in your heart you seek.”

And then he turned and walked away, abruptly as he came
And she was left so shaken she couldn’t remember her own name
For the necklace was a pendant made of opals and oyster shells
And she dared for just one moment to believe it could get her out of hell

Because hell was this world, that as a child she had just called More
Because it was More than she imagined could have existed before
Before, you didn’t imagine, you didn’t hope, you didn’t plan
You just swam in the colors and wallered in the iridescent land

And Before was so easy
And More was so hard
But there was no going back
Once they bombarded her cranium with words
She could never throw them back
So she learned to adapt
She learned to accept
That her rescuers were praised
They’d pulled her out of heaven
And into hell
But everyone was amazed
They’d taught her to speak
To read and to write
To get along with other kids
And that was all that mattered
She was just an object in their personal dramas
So she learned to live how they wanted her to live

But now she was grown
Standing in the street
Necklace in hand
And every hair on her body stood up
And she turned
And she ran

On automatic pilot she ran to the sea
She knelt down in the sand
She opened up her hand
And saw opals and oyster shells
She put the necklace on
And she cried burning tears
Of rage and desire and self-pity and shame
But most of all they were tears of loss

It had been twenty years
Since her forced exile
From the only place she’d ever felt at home
She’d tried every way she knew to get back
But the damage was already done
Once they’d given her
More words
More thoughts
More contemplation
More More
There was no going back to Before

Oh she was a success for them
She went to a mainstream school
Nobody knew of her past
Though the kids treated her like a fool
But being odd was no problem —
For the ones who rescued her
It was enough that she could talk and read

So she grew up
Got a job
Dated men
Lived on her own
Surely it didn’t matter much
If her heart turned to stone

So she stared at the oyster shell
And remembered that world like a dream
Where you didn’t need to know you existed
You just floated from scene to scene
And the colors in the opal
Brought back memories of light
Of dancing and swimming and wallering
In rainbows cast by sunlight
The oyster shell reminded her
Of the underwater ocean feel of Before
And the smooth pearly light
She had felt such delight
Until the outsiders dragged her into More

In her mind anyone seeing the necklace
Would see right through her
And the lies and broken promises of More
So she wore it under her shirt so nobody would see
But she also showed up at the library
Next day at half past three

The first person she saw
Was a wisp of a woman all in grey
Tiny and slender with black curly hair
Body dancing to a rhythm
That made her look not all there
But she recognized the rhythm
And almost bolted out the door
For the rhythms this woman danced to
Were familiar from Before,

Instead of running she stood in the doorway
Shaking from head to toe
The man from yesterday took her hand
And whispered in her ear “I know.
Some of us are still mostly Before
Some of us are mostly More
And some of us go back and forth
Like a revolving door.
It’s scary at first to see people
From your own private world
But most of us have similar stories
And it’s not so private anymore.”

She allowed him to lead her to a seat
Still shaking like a leaf
The whole floor shook, she shook so hard
And she couldn’t quite believe
But each one had something —
Their eyes
Their hands
Their movements
That gave them away
And that made her feel
Cautiously welcomed
So she came back every day

She learned that most of them
Had been pulled out from Before to More
Though a few — it seemed the happier ones —
Had simply outgrown Before
A smaller number had never really left
And kept one foot firmly in Before

She bitterly envied the last ones
She’d spent so long trying to get back
They made it look effortless
She could only feel her own lack
And yet it was they
Who welcomed her most
Who wanted to find her way home

It was one of them who made the necklace
Of opals and oyster shells
Sensing that it would best remind her
Of where she’d been

It was one of them who listened all night
To her tales of being pulled into More
Of the terrifying moment
When language appeared and locked the door

The opals and oyster shells
Felt like a bridge to Before
Not a bridge she could fully cross
But she could stand on it
And swim in an ocean of sensation, without thought
And now that there were others like her
She could see how lucky she’d got
To feel the currents of Before overtake her
For the briefest moment’s glance
It made her feel that
Maybe
She had a chance

[This is a true story. It’s not my story. But it’s the story of too many people I’ve known. It was written in response to a writing prompt from fullyarticulatedgoldskeleton: the words opals and oyster shells.]

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On the care and feeding of elephants in living rooms

You have to pretend she’s not there, you see
It doesn’t matter that you can see her with your own two eyes
It doesn’t matter when elephant farts waft into your bedroom at night
It doesn’t matter — it doesn’t matter
What matters is that she doesn’t exist
And it is your job to maintain this fiction
Or you, not the elephant, will become the problem
Everyone will sweep into damage control
“Sie hallucinates sometimes, you should know that.
Like just before or after a seizure?
Olfactory hallucinations are common in epilepsy
Those elephant farts sie’s smelling, they can’t be real.”

“Sie’s a child, and children are known for
Their overactive imaginations
And even their tendency to exaggerate
If something makes a good story.
And an elephant in the house
Makes an awfully good story
Doesn’t it dear?
Isn’t it only a story?’

I may be meaning-deaf or meaning-blind
But I have an uncanny ability
To sense the presence of something
By the shape people create
When they look everywhere
Everywhere except where that thing is

And I know there are conversations
We will never have
Because you can’t even stand the thought of it
Never mind the real thing

And I’ve finally realized that’s okay
Not every elephant needs to be brought out in the open
Some elephants are shy and want to be anonymous
Some elephants would rather not be seen or spoken of
Some elephants would rather die than show their faces
And I’ve learned too late that pointing them out
Is not always in anyone’s best interests

When I was fifteen I realized I was not ready to be engaged
When I was nineteen I realized I was not ready for a child
When I was twenty-six my body started pushing me to have a child
When I was twenty-eight my periods stopped

I am thirty-four now, the same age as when my mother had me
I was a latecomer to our family
Unplanned, unexpected, but never unwanted
Fourteen years younger than the first

And I am thirty-four now, and I think that
If I wanted a child
If I had a partner
I could finally be a good parent
Or as good a parent as I could be
When I was younger I worried
That my anger problems
Would lead me to hurt a child
Not on purpose
But it happens
Because no parent is perfect
And I could not let it happen
So I refused to have a child

And what I have learned from the elephant
(Because she talks to me sometimes,
Because I’m the only one who acknowledges
Her presence in our lives.)
Is that parents are just human beings who made love

And the best parents love their children
And do their best to do right by them
But even the best parents do things
That they will regret the rest of their liives
And I see the shape of that regret
Every time I see the shape of the elephant
Traced out by the things nobody is willing to say

I will not name the elephant
I will not name her shape
I will only say that I forgive
Everything she represents
That I forgave both of you
A long time ago

When I realized
I could not have possibly done any better
I would have done things more terrible
Than anything you could have done
I know you have regrets
We all have regrets
I regret the things I put you through as well
But I love you

Elephant or no elephant
You’re my parents
And right now
With so little time left
That’s all that matters
I love you
I forgive you
I forgave you long ago
It doesn’t matter what I forgive you for
The past is the past
It can stay in the past
We don’t need to dredge it up
To declare our love authentic
And meaningful
And real

We are all ordinary human beings
Doing the best we can (most of us)
In a world that makes that hard to do
Parents are not gods, they’re just people
Who had children
And muddled through the best they could
(Most of them)
.
Please forgive me
If I have never made my own forgiveness clear
It’s real
It’s love
It’s here

When Daylight Is Chaos

Intricate stained glass
Shatters into thousands of pieces
Every time I open my eyes
The shards press into my skin
And this is how the day begins
Every time I open my eyes
Webs of gossamer lace with
Impossibly small rainbow dewdrops
Tear and twist into pieces
Too delicate to survive
Every time I open my eyes

And the stained glass
Tears my skin to ribbons
And the lace webs
Fly into my eyes
And the chaos that is daylight
Overflows into my brain
Until all I know is pain
Every time I open my eyes

I want to take my hands
And pick up the shards of stained glass
Unwrap the gossamer webs
And slow, delicate, careful, gentle
Put everything back the way it was
Before I opened my eyes

But the chaos that is daylight
Has overflowed my brain
And all I know is pain
I try to find my hands
But they are flying through the air
Flapping in the wind
Fluttering with a grace I can’t feel
Outside my control anyway
The rest of my body’s the same
My bones are absorbing the chaos
That entered my brain
The moment I opened my eyes

Twilight slowly forms around me
And I can almost feel free
Free of the shackles that bound me
When the sunlight was all I could see

And when the night finally dawns
I dare to look around
At the remnant shattered pieces
Scattered all across the ground

My hands only flutter a little
As I reach out to the shards
Just enough to keep reminding me
They’re here
And I feel my way across the floor
Until I’ve gathered
Every piece
So clear

It’s winter so there’s plenty of night
That’s how I console myself
It’s winter so there’s plenty of time
To fix all that went wrong
It’s winter and the days get short
With every passing day
And my hands flutter round the shards
To remind me it’ll be okay

I spend all night putting the pieices
Back together, one by one
Not exactly how they started
But a new pattern, just begun
I fill the cracks with gossamer
And look on it with awe
For in the night I can see
And I’m transfixed by what I saw

Even at night I see only the parts
But at night so much chaos is gone
My joints still ache from the thrashing
And my skin burns from the light of the sun

And this is not an idle time
It’s not a time of rest

It’s when I pick up the pieces
And I put them back together
One by one, and painfully slow
Painfully slow because
That’s where the pain all goes

My shredded burning skin
And the joints that rattled in chaos within
These things take time and rest
And I have neither

I hear a high-pitched keening sound
It seems to come from all around
My body curls into a ball
And images flash so rapidly
It’s like being there, body and all
Then I wake up
Curled up
Stiff as a board propped up
Drool covers my face and bed
But there is less chaos
It’s gone from my head

Instead there is silence
Like a deep watery pool
That has never been seen or touched
It’s silver like the moon
And as I lean over it
A feeling as if it is deep enough
To go on forever
And familiar enough
As if I’d seen it every day
Since before I was born

The silence is singing
Its own silent song
More beautiful than any
I have heard with my ears

It sings:

Darkness has a shape
And silence has a voice,
And if you reach down inside
You’ll find both
There are wordless words
And silent voices
And dark shapes
And endless silver pools

And it’s all so familiar
Because everyone has this
Deep down inside
Since before you were born

Before you were born
There was room for eternity
And when you were young
You could play at Her feet
Like that big redwood tree
Near the first house you’d ever seen
It positively shone with familiarity

Now child
Let me renew you
I am the voice of the night
I am the darkness taken form
And the other face of light

And She dipped Her ladle
Into the silver water
Said “Drink when you’re able
My child or son or daughter
This will renew you
From the damage of the day
And it’s here every night
Every night”

My hands fluttered again
But this time with glee
With the realization
That at night I am free

At night I am free
As I’m not in the day
The dark and the silence
Renew me

I took a walk outside
And everything was still
Save a few owls overhead
So I climbed up the hill
I saw the silver moonlight
Reflected on the lake
And the sight was so familiar
It made my heart ache

There is love in the darkness
That heals the chaos of the daytime’s light
There are secrets in this world
That can only be found in the dead of the night
There are people like you
For whom daylight can mean nothing but pain
And you’re welcome to find me
Night after night, again and again

Return to sender: no longer at this address

My mother is a wizard with plants
I kind of knew it already
But when my father was upset
Because he'd never see the morning glories
Bloom again in his life
My mother secretly coaxed
A morning glory vine
Out of season
To bloom, and climb, to bloom, and climb
And she took him outside
To show him the magic she'd done
And that's how much my mother loves my dad

My flowers are my poetry
I coax the words to bloom and grow
And climb and climb into his heart
Even out of season
I use words to express the wordless
And that's one kind of magic I have
And that's how much I love my dad

But one of these days
I'm going to write a poem
It will be full of obscure mountain lakes
And treks across the mountains to the sea
And forest floors that were so much more
And owls hooting up in the trees
It will show him every place
That I could feel his love
Without the emotional bombardment
Of living in the city

And it will be a perfect poem
For that time and that place
It will certainly be better than this one
It will show him that I care for him
(As if he doesn't know by now)
It will show the depth of love
That death can dredge up when you're lucky

And then i will get a phone call or an email
It will start out:
“Go and take your dexamethasone right now.”
And I'll have a sinking feeling
But I'll take the syringe of steroids
And put it in my feeding tube
Then go back to the phone or the computer

Then they'll say
“The news is bad
Your father has passed away
He was far too tired this morning
To check your blog today.”

And all that's left of my magic
Will be words on a screen
Words he may have understood
But will never hope to read

From that point on forwards
We'll be separated by time
We both will have existed
But from that point in time onwards
I will be here and he won't

I wonder how much dexamethasone it takes
To avoid adrenal crisis when your dad dies
I wonder how much magical love it takes
To stand the pain you feel when you realize

That you will never talk to him again
You'll never hug him again
You'll never sit next to each other
With an elderly cat spread across your laps
You'll never ask the questions
You forgot to ask when he was alive
You'll never play with his beard again
And there's so little time
There's so little time

But I'm wrong
Like people are often wrong about time
Eternity is all around us
That's all the time in the world
Eternity is where love exists
Outside of time and space
So even if he never reads my best poems
He'll feel the love that went into them
Just as he feels the love
From that morning glory vine

He feels the love from his two pet dogs
He feels the love from his wife
He feels the love from his three adult children
He says he's lucky to be surrounded
By so much love

So I'm terribly sorry, Ron
If some of my poems don't reach you in time
And i'm terribly sorry Ron
If I try to Skype you and it turns out you're gone
Just know I love you more
Than even the best poet can convey
I love you more than I could ever say

And love is the magic that made my mom
Able to grow those morning glories
And love is the magic that makes me able
To write poems daily after years of dormancy
And love is the magic that connects you to me
It's the way we can feel each other's love
Without any form of contact at all

I hope the place I built for you outside of time
And filled to overflowing with my love
Will see you through

And I hope that I'll continue
Writing poetry to you
Long after you've gone

And I hope it reaches you in Eternity
Or wherever it is you're going

And I hope that even the worst of it
Conveys this message:

I love you
I love you
I love you

Dancing with Shadows

Do you know that I don't know
Anything beyond light and shadow
No ideas, no thoughts
Just reactions

I chase my shadow
I run from my shadow
I touch my shadow
I lean on my shadow
I tap on its fingers
I step on its feet

And we dance
And we prance
And we dance

I can't see you watching
If I did, I couldn't care
Light and dark are now
All that I perceive
Not just the colors
But the things we believe
Ideas don't exist
And neither do you
Unless you bring it
Bring your shadow into view
Then I can dance —
With your shadow, not with you

Black and white
Dark and light
Are all I comprehend
But it's not so bad
To dance with shadows
Round the bend

 

Sometimes, Restrictions Only Increase Life’s Richness

I spent six years in bed, six years I found
The richness of the love surrounding me
A tree outside my window so profound
From detail comes familiarity
They say that all restriction is a curse
A nightmare from which folks can never wake
But we exalt our highest forms of verse
Like sonnets, which restrict which form to take
And always those who could, would hurry past
Without a glance at me, or at the tree
The richness that they missed, they moved too fast
To see what I and other slow folks see
For life is rich to infinite degree
It’s found in sonnets, and in folks like me

Unfolding

Sometimes I want to unfold
The beauty of the world
As if it was the most intricate
Origami flower
That had ever seen the light of day

Then I want to wait
And wait
Until the flower blooms for real
Until its velvet black blossoms
Tinged with purple edges
Grow fuzz that you can run your hand over

And I want to hand it to you
And watch you rub the fuzz
Against your cheek
Against your lips
Against your nose —
The yellow-black stamens tickle

And then fold the flower
Back into paper
And put it in my pocket
For safekeeping

I would make more of them
And write secret notes
That only some people could read

They would say things like:

“The most beautiful things
Are concealed all around you.”

“You are a flower and
This is how you become real.”

“You are unfolding
Just like this.
Don’t hurry,
Don’t wait.”

I would hide them in plain sight
And I would hide them in places
That only the curious and observant
Would bother looking

I would hide them in places
That can only be found
When doing shit work
For 22 cents an hour

I would hide them so that each person
Stood a chance of finding at least one
Just one
That told them what they needed to hear
Right now
Just then

Unfold them, they become real flowers
Fold them, they become folded paper
You can do this as many times as you need
Because they are magic flowers

And if you get good at looking and listening
With more than just your eyes and ears
You will find these creations everywhere
Left by someone
With far more magic
Than I will ever possess

You know when you find one because
Suddenly something ordinary
Becomes extraordinary
Suddenly you’ve been let in on a secret
About something you’d seen before
But never seen before

It can be anything from
A spray of mud on your pants
To a pair of decorated crutches
To a butterfly

It doesn’t have to be pretty on first sight
Many times it isn’t
Many times it seems horrible
Until that flash of inspiration
When it unfolds into a flower in full bloom

And then every texture is like suede
And every color is like the deepest blue before dawn
And every taste is like boiled collards with butter
And every smell is the fur behind a cat’s ears

I wish I had the magic necessary
To make these things myself
To fold reality into paper
And leave it everywhere for people to find

As it is, all I can say is
Someone has already done it

You can find these magic folded papers
On the inside of a zero
In the yawn of a kitten
In a feeding tube
In a wadded up rag
In a tangled old root
In a leaf that skips down the sidewalk

And all of them are flowers
And all of them are there to tell you
There is more in this world than you can ever see
There is more love
There is more light
There is more beauty

And you are part of it
Always
Even
(Especially!)
When everything seems to be
Crashing down around you

Can you accept
This magic spell
This gift
From the world
To me
To you?

Intimacy with Friends and Forests

Part of a blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

Part of blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

I sink into my body, and it feels like sinking into the moist brown soil in a redwood forest, full of fungus and forgotten redwood needles, and plants, and decay, and life, all at once. I may have left the forest in body, but in my soul it’s right there. Waiting for me to deepen and put down roots.

I can feel every joint in my body as I curl up in a ball and lie on my side. They ache, but also say hello to me, tell me I’m alive, their voices  indistinguishable from the aching.

I stretch my senses out and out and out. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t even know exactly what I’m doing. I just know that even though my bed is my permanent home these days, seldom left except for doctor visits, I’m able to connect to the world more thoroughly than I ever thought possible. I can become the floor of a redwood forest or the sun hitting a granite mountainside. And I can see what most people can’t. Aspects of the world I know some others can see, but seldom talk about? Because how do you describe it? How do you explain it to anyone who isn’t already aware of it? I don’t know.  These things are as ordinary as rocks, they don’t need to be put on a pedestal. But they’re so central to my life I have to talk about them.

I have a doppelganger of sorts. Sometimes it feels like the two of us are branches of the same thing,  connected at a fork. But if I follow the branch back to where we intersect, I can be part of her as well. I can feel the world from behind her eyes.

I love to do it when she’s concentrating on something she loves. She becomes so focused and so delighted, nothing else in the world exists. Other times, though, after a long day at work, she feels buzzy and confused, like her brain just wants to take a nap. I am so glad she works with feral cats. She does so many things I’m not able to do. But I experience them through her, and doing that relieves me of any regret that I’m unable to do those things, as me. It feels like I can do them as her, and that’s enough.

This sounds bizarre, but I’m told by people who know, that there are levels on which identity doesn’t work how people think it does. Maybe it’s really possible for two people to be part of one whole.

It would certainly explain other experiences I’ve had. Where I connect to the world in just the right way at the right time, and suddenly I’m having the experiences and emotions of a mother who lost her child over a century ago. Or even stranger, I slide into the collected feelings of everyone who has ever had a certain experience. It hits me hardest when someone murders an autistic child, and suddenly I want to tell the world that we were there, we saw, we knew, we understood what nobody thought we could… except who is we? I slide in and out of those experiences without trying, and the anguish  becomes mine for that moment before I’m just myself again. I’ve talked to other autistic people who experience the same thing after one of us is killed. It’s involuntary and heart-wrenching.

But when I connect to her, it’s not by accident. I know how to find her. It’s like placing my fingers ever so lightly on a filament too thin to see. And then pulling backwards ever so slightly. And letting myself be guided slowly forward. To the point where we connect.

I do it when I want to check in on her. I do it when I am too weak and too tired to communicate with anyone else, in any other way. I can touch her and know that she is real, that she is out there, that she knows I am here and recognizes how I feel at that moment. I do it almost instinctively when I am in unbearable pain. I touch her mind and she touches mine back, like holding hands with me only without the overload and exhaustion of having someone in the room. And in emergencies. True emergencies where I don’t even know if I’ll pull through. I reach out without even trying, from the stretcher in the ambulance, and she contacts my friends to make sure her instinct that I was hospitalized is correct. She’s never been wrong.

Being around her is like the best parts of being alone and being near someone at once. We can communicate with each other about things that we don’t have the language skills to tell anyone else. We can tell each other things that are impossible to talk about without shared experiences. We know each other as deeply as it is possible to know anyone. And yet we have clear boundaries, we don’t bleed into each other in an unhealthy fashion, we are connected at the core yet separated on the surface, as it should be.

And I lie here curled in a ball, leaning my side on the upward tilt of my hospital bed. I don’t have the energy or cognitive ability to write, to put things into words. But I can hope that at the right time, the words will come and I will be able to describe the inner life that is so hard to explain or describe to anyone but her.

I soak in the night, as I soak in the earth. I reach out into a blue place. A deep shade of blue that glows like the sky above the beginning of a sunrise or the end of a sunset. I’m told that shade of blue has a meaning, but all I know is I catch it hanging around a lot, and that it’s a powerfully good part of the world. Sometimes I have dreams where the entire sky is that shade of blue, and they always seem amazing and important. I try to incorporate it into my paintings.

A lot of what I do at times like this is listen to the world. Listen to it with my bones, even the pain that runs through them seems to enhance my ability to listen. I don’t listen with my ears, I listen in ways that don’t have words. They feel like the forces of gravity, pulling in directions, as if my bones have been replaced by magnets. I listen in gravity and color and in the ability to lose myself inside of things, places, and people.

This is my first language. All of my early memories are of textures, gravity, movement, and colors, blending together. When I was very sick and hospitalized, I had a dream that told me to go back to that, to listen in that way, to root myself in those early experiences of the world and keep going as far as it could take me. So, when I remember, I do. I sink into my body and I listen to the world, I feel its movements inside me, I see color and texture. And most of all, my entire body feels connected to the rest of the world in such a deep way that there aren’t words for it. I can feel where my place is, where I belong, and that I am there all the time.

I prefer not to give these ways of experiencing the world a lot of words. I don’t even bother explaining how it works, other than that the world is different than many people think it is, and that my best mode of thinking and understanding is perceptual rather than conceptual. But I know these things are real, because other people who experience the world as I do feel the same textures and see the same colors. When I connect to someone, they know it and we talk about it. So whatever else this may be, it’s more than imagination.

And for me, is one of the most important things in my life. This is where I get my strength. This is where I get my sense of connection, of having a place in the world. This is where I go when I’m too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything else. This is how I have come to know that my body is me, not a thing separate from me that I fight with. And this is how I know that I am much more than my body at the same time. That identity, time, and a lot of other things, don’t work the way people think they do.

This is how I know that however else I feel about them, my disabilities are deeply embedded in my individual body, in the physical manifestation of my existence. They are not tacked on as an afterthought. And they are sometimes deeply involved in how I do this. My ability to see the world from this perspective at all is deeply connected to the traits that get me labeled autistic. Sinking into my body like that means constant awareness of pain, of things struggling to function but not always managing. Being bedridden for years has somehow enhanced these abilities, and so has encountering death up close and personal.

Speaking of death, I could swear that as a young adult living in the redwoods again, my surroundings talked to me about it, in their own way. About how when you die, all these different life forms live off of you. Bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, trees. They all eat you, and you become a part of them. And in being part of them, you have been absorbed into the rest of the world. And there’s something profoundly beautiful about the way that death is part of life, and life is part of death.

And that is why death holds no fear for me. But for now, I am alive. And I sink into my body. And joy is as deep and physical as pain. And they are as intertwined with each other as life and death. I feel my way towards my friend. I feel her focused delight in existing. Then I feel the sun on the granite, as if I am not me, but some combination of sun and granite, right where they intersect. I feel the sturdiness of rock that is part of mountains. I feel things that have never been given names, gravitational magnetic forces tugging deep in my bones. I never feel as if I leave my bedroom. I am firmly anchored right where I am, no matter what I feel, I feel it here. But I feel like I can touch other places, other people, without leaving this place.

So I am curled up, leaning against the tilted bed. But I’m also curled up leaning against the base of the enormous redwood known to people from Redwood Terrace as the Mother Tree. I hear singing, without hearing a sound. And besides its normal colors, the tree is also a shade of lavender that exactly matches my amethyst ring. And also transparent to a light so clear it’s invisible. A solidness sinks down into my bones. I stay there until I fall asleep.

It’s not bad, down here where I live.

I spend all day every day
Climbing up to your level
That’s what I do every time
I use a word
Or even communicate directly
Instead of indirectly

Sometimes I want you to
Come down here to my level
It’s not a bad place to be
It’s not full of emptiness
Sometimes it’s so full of light
That I can barely stand it

I want you to sit next to me
Not facing me

I want to pass intricate glass beads
Back and forth
Side to side
As if our hands just happened to be there
To drop the bead
To catch the bead
But never to touch, one hand to the other

I want us to feel the beads with our fingers
And rub them on our faces
And tap them to hear the sounds they make
And hold them up to the light
To see it glitter and flash inside them

Because, you see, I spend all day, every day
Climbing up to meet you where you’re at
But you never climb down to my level

I live down here
It’s not bad down here
It’s actually quite beautiful down here
And if you are at all able
One day, just for an hour
I want to show you where I live

[Inspired partly by the late Mayer Shevin’s description of his interaction with a client with the pseudonym Jonathan.  I identified with the situation so strongly that a poem just appeared out of nowhere.]

The Mind Bridge: A True Story

You saw me spinning outside
Along the edges of a dance
Asked questions
Were told I was crazy
The first thing you were told
Besides my name

We were so very different
And I had trouble communicating
But from the very first day we talked
You were making inroads nobody had ever made
Ever
Ever
Never in my life
Had someone peered into my mind
And seen me

We were only twelve years old
And you instinctively knew
That the way to communicate with me
Was to find books in common
And talk in metaphors
Gleaned from the pages
Of the books we had just read

It was A Wrinkle In Time, I recall
We classified people as
Meg-like or Charles-Wallace-like
Sandy-and-Dennys-like

For the first time ever I was able
To break out of non-communicative echolalia
By using echolalia from a book
I told you I was Mrs. Who
The character who could only communicate
By quoting the words of others

For a 12-year-old autistic kid
Who had never heard of autism or echolalia
I doubt anyone could have done better
Than we did that day
At building a bridge between our worlds

I didn’t recognize your significance
For a long time
In fact I ignored you
I was embarrassed sometimes
At your interest in me
I didn’t know what to make of it

You saved every telephone number
Of every mental institution
Every residential facility
I was committed to
Even for a day
So that we could keep in touch
No matter what

Nobody else did that
Not even the people
Who claimed later
To have been ‘so close to me’
None of them ever did that

But I’ve seen your daily planner
Full of crossed-out phone numbers
For mental institutions
That I have no memory
Of speaking to you in
Because I was too heavily drugged

When I became nonverbal on the phone
You were the one who devised
Impromptu communication systems
Cycling through the alphabet
Until I tapped out the letters
Not even my psychiatrist
Took me seriously enough
To do this for me
I cried

Then each of us tapped out
The rhythm of a prime number
You took two
I took three
You took five
I took seven
We would go as high as we could
My favorites were seven and eleven

You knew that the rhythm of numbers
Was one of my favorite things
So when I went nonverbal on the phone
You devised the prime number game
There were so many areas
Where we met in the middle
Despite our brains being quite different

I was a highly sensing and sensual person
And I brought to our friendship
A heightened appreciation for
Basic sensory experiences
That you had all but forgotten about
You even took up stimming
To understand the world
As I experienced it

You were undersensitive
And you lived in your mind
A mind full of mathematics
And ideas, and concepts
That were normally too high
For me to climb to
But you carried me up
Specially made ladders
To teach me graduate-level math
And make me think I could do it

You were so brilliant
That everyone knew it
Even in our gifted program
You were singled out
For special tracking
I’d never even heard of
The gifted of the gifted

No one was less surprised than me
When you won the International Science Fair
By discovering a new property of
The Fibonacci sequence
You weren’t just good at tests

I used to wonder what someone like you
Saw in someone like me
Who was already exgifted
By the time I began to know you well
I wondered how a mind like yours
Could see anything worthwhile
In a mind like mine

But the magic happened between us
When we each built a bridge
I built mine out of mud and sticks
And redwood cones
You built yours out of equations and proofs
And lots of geometry
And we were able to stand in the middle
Where the bridges met
Hold hands
And look out over the landscapes
Of our two minds

Nobody had ever built me such a bridge before
Nobody has ever built me such a bridge since
Until I saw the bridge
I had no idea how lucky I was

“I was content to be an object in your world”
You told me once
Commenting on the long time
When I couldn’t seem to understand
That you were offering friendship and love
When you weren’t sure
I noticed you were really there at all

How can an autistic child
Who has only known bullies
Masquerading as friends
Understand friendship and love?

One of my friends
When she was a teenager
Got so confused
By a genuine offer of friendship
That she painted a painting
Where the sky was the ground
And the ground was the sky
And all the colors were reversed
Then she broke down crying

Me, I just stayed wary, for years
When I was vulnerable around you, I waited
For the sucker-punch to the gut
That always came
When I was confused or overloaded
And the laughter that always followed

But the punch
And the laughter
And the ridicule
Never came

Instead of garbage
You handed me a flower
Instead of a locked door
You handed me a key

I unlocked the door
I stepped out into a world
Of living color
And I said goodbye
To the bully-friends
Forever

And I took your hand
And stepped onto the bridge
And we held hands
And looked at the sunset together
You standing on mud
Me standing on geometry
On a bridge
I have never seen the like of
Again