The Awakening *Spoilers*

I first began reading classic novels in college. I loved to read something that had stood the test of time, something that I felt I would gain some intellectual benefit from apart from simple enjoyment. It was exciting to catch quick references to characters or plots from stories in other content I consumed that before would have just slipped by unnoticed. I’ve found the classics add a lot of depth and context to many other aspects of life and art.

The Awakening is a very short novel by Kate Chopin I read nearly a decade ago. I wish I knew exactly what year. I hardly remembered the story at all. I just retained the vague feeling that I had not been too impressed by it. Someone suggested this book to me recently, and I was proud to say I had already read it. Although, I was a little embarrassed I didn’t remember more about it. Realizing this, I decided it was a good time to reread it, especially knowing, at only 157 pages, it wouldn’t take me more than a day or two to casually flip through. I was excited to see how ten years of further life experiences would alter my perception of the story.

It was fascinating to go over the text with the double vision of reading it for the second time. I could recall my original thoughts, while also experiencing it as if for the first time. There is something indescribably poignant and sad about seeing how much I’ve grown through revisiting a story like this. When I was younger, I remember being rather bored in the beginning of the novel, and utterly frustrated and perplexed at the ending. Now… well now, I felt my soul gripped by every word, every thought and experience Edna Pontellier had. Ironically enough, I am now the same age as she was in the book.

When I was younger, everything seemed so much simpler and straightforward. If Edna loved Robert and not her husband, and Robert loved her back, then what was the dilemma? Just leave your husband. Nothing is more important than love, especially a love that is within your reach. I found it hard to understand why Robert left for Mexico. It angered and confused me. When he finally came back, my naïve heart truly believed they would finally be together in the end. Even when Edna left to go tend to her friend, I felt no uneasiness about Robert waiting for her to return. Of course he would.

This time, as soon as the inevitably ending began it’s slow approach, I felt my chest getting tighter. Despite not remembering the book, I knew immediately Robert would not be there when Edna returned. Some part of me thinks that even Edna knew as she sat on the porch for a few minutes before going back in, as if to prolong the happy delusion for just a few moments longer. This time, I also knew in my very bones why Edna appeared by the seashore of their happy island summer homes. I knew she would not be returning to have dinner with Victor. As a teenager, I was dumbfounded about what was happening all the way up to the point where she stripped all of her clothes off in front of the ocean waves. I remained in disbelief even at the very end.

Revisiting this story after so much has happened in my own life was profound. It ached in all the best and worst ways. It swallowed me up completely. It held a mirror up to my very soul and cradled my crumpled form as I wept inconsolably. There is something about youth that fills us with crisp simplicity and happy illusions about life and love. The painful pull of life that drags us along into the future adds such complexity and depth to concepts and convictions that once appeared so crystal clear and unchangeable. Sometimes things cannot have a happy ending. Even love is not enough in many instances. Certain decisions cannot be taken back or rectified regardless of how wretched we feel about them later. One word spoken too soon, a poor choice of phrase spat out in a moment of high emotion, can change the course of a life forever. Even small stones, carelessly thrown into the still pond of life create irrevocable ripples that spread out in ways we couldn’t have possibly imagined.

Despite this, there is such agonizing, undulating beauty to be found within deep, unalterable grief and regret. Books like these, characters like Edna, are a haven for the innermost broken-winged birds of my soul. They are a reminder that while I may not be able to change the course my life has already taken or the decisions left open to me because of that course, I am not alone in my sorrow. Others have experienced the complex emotions I often feel incapable of expressing for myself, and even more will experience them in the future. I’ll leave you will a quote from my favorite artist that sums up this sentiment nicely:

You’re not alone in anything. You’re not alone in trying to be.

The Ladder Song – Bright Eyes
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A Precious Aching

Sometimes my heart strains toward you
spreading so thin across the expanse between
that it quivers like a tightly strung guitar string
sending notes of anguish into all that empty space

Reverberation of moth eaten memories
stirring up stale dust in a long abandoned room
as it echoes off the walls of aching lungs
until I'm almost sure I should reach out for you

The half formed fantom of a future
grips my heart so suddenly in some moments
that it feels worth risking anything for
even certain humiliation and rejection

But then the sharp, pinching recoil always returns
to snap me out of my pathetic, forlorn reveries
my hand is not worthy of even reaching
a frenzy of hope can overcast the wretched truth

I have no right to continue pining
a don't deserve the bittersweet comfort
of these carefully enshrined memories
let alone the audacity of asking for more

My lot now is to keep languishing
moving inevitably away from a future
that could have once been mine
but was long ago forsaken

My selfish heart keeps me from
even the respite of one day forgetting
pouring warm tears over ice cold memories
I will be grateful for this aching

Private Polyamory

There are many reason I identify with polyamory
primarily the science that explains it's our nature
but also because it allows me to love again
even though my love for you has never faded

Monogamy proclaims I cannot love more than one
in this model my life would have to be spent alone
or else in a horrible, shameful sham of love
because you will never again be mine to hold

Polyamory is something I am able
to practice quietly within my own heart
the alter I still gently tend for you in my soul
need not be torn down or take up all the space

I can share my love with others
without letting you go
which is a true blessing because
that's a choice I am unable to make

The feelings I have for you
are probably the best part of me
and it would be a tragedy
to discard them all together

What a relief to be reassured
there is no need for me to be alone
just because you no longer love me
while I will love you forever

What a gift to get to keep you
nestled close to my heart no matter what
to never have to lose the vivid color
of all that you still are to me

The Strength of Memory

Early morning mountainside
enshrined behind a gentle mist
fog rising from cool air
as it meets the hot earth

How many other moments of awe
have already slipped beyond the veil
of impermanent, imperfect memory
sudden piercing pang of vague loss

I run my fingers over the fading pictures
I've placed in holy alters of the heart
pleasures made sweeter by the stitches
of pain weaving outward from the past

Is it wrong to endlessly revive old joys
should I put effort into slowing the
inevitable erosion of time or
would it be more kind

To allow old days to disappear
and someday no longer know
what wonders I've since lost
along the long, winding way

Will holding on make me strong enough
to face the many difficulties ahead
or will a tight grip leave me too weak
to embrace the life I've yet to live

Childhood Friends

I wish someone had told me to hold onto all the people I once knew. I wish I had some way of knowing what I was throwing away, or at the very least letting fizzle out, watching with disinterest as my many fertile gardens of companionship withered in the hot sun of time. When you’re young, it’s hard to realize what you have. Everything just feels like it’s always been that way, that it will always be that way. Friends come and they go without much fear of social isolation. There will always be new peers, new classmates, new friends to take their place. Every school year is a new start, a new chance to build connections. After high school, there is always college to find your chosen family.

Six years after getting my Bachelors and only now am I beginning to realize the opportunities I squandered for all those years. I would always hear people saying that high school doesn’t matter. That you’ll leave those doors and all the people inside behind forever once you graduate. Not to worry about those relationships, because there will be plenty more that are more important in the future. Looking back, I wish instead they had said those years don’t have to matter. I realize now this was a message for people struggling in school, the social outcasts, the kids that felt like they’d never fit in or find friends. This message was a beacon of hope for them, a call to keep their courage as they moved out into new avenues of life. The point wasn’t that I shouldn’t invest effort in maintaining the relationships I did have. It wasn’t about devaluing the whole idea of childhood friends.

At the time, it seemed like a waste of energy, pathetic even, to try to cling to old friends that were no longer around you everyday. After all, there was a whole new pool of peers to meet and mingle with. Why reach out to people from the past? I never really gave much thought to the fact that the bonds I formed in college would one day become less convenient as well. What then? It was quite a shock when I started working full time to feel the difference between a classroom and a work place. Not only were there far less people to interact with in general, but those people were vary rarely of an age that I would consider my peers. We had very little in common. I already had trouble finding companions within my age group, let alone outside of it.

All these years later, I often find myself looking back on all the bridges I burned, wondering if there is any way I could salvage them, or if the other party has already forgotten me. I never understood how precious a childhood friendship truly is until it was too late. There is an empty space inside the new connections I make. There was something so special is the knowledge that the other person really knew you. They knew all of you. They had watched you grow up and you had known them just as intimately. That’s something you can never have with someone else, even if they tell you about who they used to be. You are still only seeing it through their eyes, only getting the bits they want to reveal. And something aches inside of me when I acknowledge that.

You’re With Me On My Own

Living lattice of spongey spiderwebs
stitches supporting the dark, damp earth
connecting networks transmitting information
between the trees' deeply buried toes

breathing in pulsating energy particles
that permeate the thick air above
quivering conviction of nature intertwined
magical mirror image, veins beneath pale skin

Sacred assurance that all is not lost
the same sun still rises in the east each morning
you reside in the red light beneath my eyelids
retinas stained with sweet remembrance

Everything fades except for this feeling
bitter things only taste better as I age
including this patient pain, the prize I protect
hopeless happiness harbored in secret

Silly dreams pluck breath from lonely lungs
pathetic mantra of "maybe one day"
vindicated by comparison to other
laughably unlikely anecdotes

The small, sharp pleasure of
planning this impossible future
fills my cracked cup enough
to keep going

Besides, we're still connected by
that complicated underground lace
linked inextricably through shared sunlight
eternally sown together with this earth
Mycelium Dreaming – Autumn Skye

Ghost

You still haunt me
in all the hollow places
I once harbored you 
an obstruction in my lungs
when I open the door
of my parents' home
a tightness in my throat
when I drive through the trees
on twisting, tear-stained roads
bittersweet pinpricks of the heart
promising this shameful flush
of feeling will never fade
I fear the thought
of releasing this phantom
and making room
for something new
I guess you can't be in love
with a ghost forever

A Thousand Deaths

A morbid fixation on death overcomes me from time to time. Usually I don’t think much about it. Death hasn’t touched my life much at all in these 28 years. Somehow I haven’t really lost many close family members or friends. The death of beloved animals has been the majority of my encounters with this grim shadow that lingers on the edge of life. It’s been easy for me to live in denial of this unpleasant reality.

Last night as I was reading through the terrible ends of characters in books, I couldn’t escape the contemplation of my own inevitable departure from this world. I was petrified at the idea that I would die alone in some unimaginable form of physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. I don’t have any children, nor will I. I’m also the youngest person in my family. I only have a few close friends. It’s hard for me to picture how I would even avoid a horrific demise besides my near certain assumption that the earth with end before I have to worry about dying of old age or disease.

Then as I was falling asleep that night, a truth I have known for quite some time, but never fully felt in this way crashed over me. It is utterly pointless for me to spend my time and energy playing out this possible future in my head. If this is my fate, if my life ends in isolation and agony, so be it. Thinking about that will never be able to prevent it or change it. Yes, it’s hard to accept that death will find me one day. Even harder to accept that my final moments may be particularly sad and full of suffering. But making myself sick with fear from these thoughts will not spare me this death. Instead it will cause me to experience a thousand deaths rather than just one.

Learning From Loneliness, Loss, and Stagnation

Focusing on the past and trying to make sense of my previous mistakes and experiences used to be a much bigger part of my mental landscape. I think when I was younger it was easier to line things up in a neat and orderly manner in order to create a story that made sense and gave me a sense of direction. Eventually it seemed like I had created so many memories, lived through so many years, met and lost so many people that I started to lose the plot. There no longer seemed to be a way to make all these seemingly random pieces fit together.

One of the good things about shifting my focus away from the past is that I don’t ever dwell on regrets. Someone asked me the other day what one of my biggest regrets was, and it honestly took me a long time to even come up with any. I’ve certainly made a lot of egregious mistakes throughout my time on this earth, but do I really regret those mistakes? I don’t know. I do regret the way I’ve treated a lot of people in my life. But even then, that’s more because of the way it affected them, not how it’s affected me. Although I feel guilty for being so cruel and selfish when I was younger, I never would have learned what I know now or become the person I am today if I hadn’t behaved that way in the past.

For instance, one of my biggest regrets is probably the way I treated my mother during my late teens. Part of me does wonder how I might be different if I had been willing to accept her support and love during some of my darkest, loneliest times. Still I think I wouldn’t have the perspective to appreciate her the way I do now if I hadn’t rejected and hated her all those years ago. Despite my coldness, I was able to feel just how much she loved me. Even when I basically threw her love away each time, she continued to offer it to me at every opportunity. She never returned my disdain or cruelty. She never left or gave up on me. Because of that time in my life, I now cherish her more than I think I ever could have otherwise. One of my biggest regrets still led to the discovery of truly unconditional love and the unwavering support of a mother for her child. And understanding just how lucky I am to have that.

Lately I have been feeling completely stuck and without direction in life. I keep struggling to move past this uncomfortable stagnation. At the same time I just can’t seem to envision how or when this feeling will change. Looking back at the past, particularly our own mistakes, can be painful, but there is a value to exploring our own story every now and then. There is a lot that we can learn from piecing together the seemingly disconnected parts of our colorful pasts. One of those things is refilling our faith that things might not make sense right now, but one day they will.

No matter how badly we might feel we have failed, or how irredeemable our actions may seem in the moment, you can never be sure the future benefits, knowledge, and value we may gain from them in the future. Just because we can’t see it right now, can’t even conceive how that could be possible, we can at least acknowledge that it’s happened in the past. By reflecting back we can recognize how some of our darkest moments eventually, without our conscious awareness, transformed into some of our greatest strengths, our deepest insights, our most valuable lessons.

Even though things have been confusing, difficult, and unsettling for me for what seems like ages now, it won’t feel like this forever. One of the scariest things is the feeling that I’m wasting time, years of my life, of my youth. But our time can never truly be wasted. No matter what we are doing, whether we want to be, or believe we are, we are always growing, learning, and changing. This time is not being wasted, despite how it feels. Periods of stagnation can just as easily be viewed as periods of incubation. This perspective might not make it go any faster, but it does make it just a little bit easier to keep going, even when you don’t know where you’re going or when it feels like you’re actually going no where at all. One day it’ll all make sense again. You’ll be able to look back and see that it was all necessary, that it was all worth it. An egg just looks like an egg from the moment it’s laid to the moment it hatches. Just because we might not be able to see or understand what’s developing within, doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be the day it’s finally revealed.

Positive Pain

Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.

When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”

There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.

I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.

In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.