Perhaps the moon, in reflecting our own shifting selves, is a material manifestation of the human psyche. But its many phases are nothing compared to the many layered facets of our experiences. Our phases are not visible but assuredly recurring.
Tonight, like the last many nights, unable to sleep, watching Payson sleeping peacefully on his side of the bed, his back to me, the phrase your solo journey begins, forms itself in my mind. Nobody can accompany me when I am, against my will, embarked on my Night Sea Journey. Togetherness falls apart — Payson in his own uncharted dimensions of sleep, I in my own abyss, and nary a bridge between us.
Time spiraling around the axis that is me brings me to old places that I perceive as new because of the failure of memory. I have been in this darkness before, many times. It is the dark strand of my life that runs invisible and parallel to my daily existence. Chaos happens periodically but consistently, in life, as well as in nature. Who knows why? It might as well be the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Shanghai that causes a storm in my soul. It might as well be a shower of neutrinos sending cosmic intimations from beyond matter, from the very edges of the universe, billions of light years away.
Out of the blue, I’ve taken a downturn. Perhaps because I have been trying to live in a deliberate sort of way. Perhaps because I am tending as I age towards order, organization and decluttering. Perhaps because I’ve deluded myself into thinking living with awareness makes me immune to the vaster shifting matrix of internal and external weather and seasons. “No matter how much we make conscious,” Jung says, “there will always be an indeterminate and indeterminable quantity of unconscious elements, which belong to the totality of the self”. My total self includes the shadows of unknown forces that thrust me into my umbra.
At night, when all my cognitive defenses are down, I am dunked into painful emotions I have deluded myself into thinking I have overcome. I become an infant in a cradle swirling uncontrollably on a gale-lashed sea. None of the skills and techniques, like breathing, prayer, that I have painstakingly taught myself over a lifetime to tide me over such periods, help. Only the sensation remains of being sucked down to the depths of my unconscious mind and memory where all those I have lost, mother, father, husband, nanny, dogs, cats, whirl in the swirling, alive and present. Death feels bone-close as I circle the dark hole of professional and personal failures.
I will never complete another book; my flute will be snatched away from me in the middle of a mediocre melody; I will die a nameless unknown, sink like a pebble into obscurity. I feel the knot of ego in my heart called ambition.
I let it be, incapable of unknotting or cutting it, so woven it is in the cytoplasm of the cells that make up my ‘I.’ I live scenarios of dreadful illnesses and think, ‘I will take myself out if that happens.’ I think of my solitary librarian friend, Tom Goonan, rabid atheist and hermit extraordinaire, who I befriended because of my predilection for curmudgeons. He belonged to the Hemlock Society and took himself out when his colon cancer recurred. It took him 12 hours to die, time enough for him to be discovered and taken to the hospital, a rosary clutched in his hands.
I live in the boiling waters of failed relationships that once, and even now, matter to me in a dark sort of way. My brother and his family who preferred greed to a sister’s love; friends I love for whom the relationship is less important than it is to me; people who have disappointed me and people I have disappointed, the worst of which is disappointing my father, he who gave and made me all I am today, who gave me unconditional love and freedom. I did not go when he called me to come to him before he died. I was too enmeshed in my ambition, being ‘someone’ after the publication of my first book, intent on publicity. I blinded myself with the hope that he would survive till I got there a month later.
And you, Mother, who implanted yourself like a fetus in my heart, birthed yourself like my child in your old age and as you lay like an infant in a coma. Ah. I must pause here and feel the pain. To some extent, though my heart doesn’t want to re-experience the anguish of remembering the details. Later, sufferer. Know there are many thorny grains of sand in the oyster’s shell that never turn to pearls. You will never fully extirpate regret. Some consequences of bad decisions will quake in you till you are incinerated in the awaiting oven.
In the morning, after sleeping through my journey to hell, Payson awakes, returning from wherever he has been in his own world and dreams. I ask him, “will you help me take myself out when I am ready to go?”
“Of course,” he replies reassuringly, stroking my arm. “I will do whatever you want. But you don’t have to think these thoughts right now.” I heed him. I heed the wisdom he offers. In its light I see how false my fears are, even though they seemed so very real.
Kamla K. Kapur