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Pure As the Driven Slush (Personal Journal)

December 24th, Two Thousand Two
: We're walking down sidestreets, quiet and hushed as the holidays set in. Light snow covers everything with translucent powder; insulates with a soft, plush blanket of white, hushing all of us like babies with a gently whispered "Shhhh, there now. It's all right."

I remember the Christmas Eve my father -- his arms full of packages he'd saved and scrimped for to give to my sister and I -- was mugged in a dark alley in Chicago. All our gifts were stolen; he lost several teeth in the struggle, never to have them replaced. I didn't care about the gifts; I was so terrified at the idea of my father hurt and bleeding, at a world that could be cold enough where children's gifts could be stolen the night before Christmas. I was worried for my father: his body and pride wounded; about his clear fear that we'd love him less for not having things to give us, offerings to make to prove the love I always knew was there, even when he was not.

I think to myself, there aren't dark alleys here.

Everything is quiet, the sidestreets deserted. Tiny lights twinkle from windows, and the scent of someone baking with unsweetened chocolate nearby tickles my nose. My dog pads along jauntily, thinking herself a great adventurer, kicking up the leaves underneath the snow and salt with some odd sense of purpose; the way we all have a natural, fleeting urge to leave our footprints in wet concrete. It's just she and I this year; I feel alone but not lonely, but recognize the seeming strangeness of this small, half-furry family that is mine. I talk with her as we walk, and it doesn't seem so strange at all, both of us wrapped up in our little fleeces, smiling at the snow that dusts our copper hair and ices our noses. I try to remember when I last didn't feel it'd been just she and I. It's been longer than I'd allowed myself to realize.

I suppose there are dark alleys here; perhaps I have just chosen not to see them sometimes.

I think when we get home, we'll nestle up on the couch in the lights of the small tree, she with her bone, and I'll have a steaming cup of máte. Maybe we'll press our noses up against the frosty windows and breathe on the glass until it clears. Maybe I'll read while she naps on my knees. Maybe I'll sit with an instrument and sing to the silence.

In running our errands I discover one more small thing I've been severed from. Not more than a small annoyance, really, but it hits hard today. The busier streets aren't so quiet -- manic drivers in a hurry to ply others with presents make a ruckus and an uproar. The timbre of the white and the snow and the quiet shifts as my mood does -- it doesn't feel quite so cozy, knowing someone is trying so very hard to remove all traces of me from their life, even in the smallest ways, as if one could simply erase another person and make what hurts vanish like the dust you'd blow from the paper. As if, when someone cut an old boyfriend out of a photograph, they couldn't still see him standing there in the negative space the scissors created. We can't judge another's way of healing, of coping -- we're so very different, we nurse wounds so differently -- but I think to myself, that for myself this is not how I want to cope and to heal. I walk a few blocks with a mantra circling in my head, repeating to myself not "He is gone from me," but "He is no longer with me as once he was, but remains as he is now. I accept what is now, and honor and cherish what once was in memory." I don't want to erase. I just want to make new drawings, and file the old somewhere where it's okay for me to look at them, touch them, and remember, whether they make me smile or cry; likely both.

There are dark alleys here, but I don't want to walk them.

This small bag of fresh sweetbreads from the bakery spreads warmth into my senses, wanting to flirt with the warm room and hot mug waiting nearby. The dog and I, our feet are tired from the long walk in the cold; my face is flushed and frosty, but feels fresh and clear. A beautiful rastafarian walks by, long, long dreadlocks hanging down his back, smelling of sweet marijuana smoke that makes me grin with whimsy. I allow myself to look at the small house that always catches my eye; the one with the large pile of firewood and the swing on the porch that I have a small ache to go to the door of, knock, and be taken in. I recognize it as a house of my longing -- for warmth, for a home, for belonging, for family, a sense of security -- but I walk back towards my own, favoring not what I want, what I yearn for, but what I have, now.

We know the steps back, our pace quickens as we get closer. We know where to hang the coats there, where the water bowl is. We could sing the song the whistling kettle makes perfectly when it does choose to whistle, know which part of the couch is our very own spot. We know how to find what we need, see what we are, in words and images and sounds and scents. We know the way home.

Sometimes we just have to walk through the dark alleys to get there.

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