“I have no idea how you lived through your twenties,” my wife has said, more than once.
But why? So I wanted to be as alive as I could! (Perhaps because at other times, Death beckoned with such allure?) So I felt touched by God in my heart, soul, blood, bone, and skin! So I saw the light surrounding every living thing! Were these bad things?
A Life that Threatened to Kill Me
No, no, I still say, no, they were not bad. As I’ve written on this blog before, I mourn that glorious vision of light through the trees. I mourn the way that poems used to pour out of me, just line after line about the beauty of the Horned One and the Crucified One and the Sorrowing Mother of both of them. Of knots of lovers and the procession of flowers. Of driving way too fast on country roads that curve and slids and hairpin throughout rural Pennsylvania. Of drinking way too much all the time all the time all the time.
Life burned with that dazzling white Mary Oliver writes about. (quoted in the previous post)
But living there, with that white hot fire, also threatened to kill me. Not only because of the bleak depressions that drove me to blood and red fire. Not only because of the grey screen that separated me from all those who loved me, but because of the very glory itself.
Because with the glory came that passion, that need for suffering, delight, risk, and ecstasy. The need for intensity. The need to make something happen in the world that mirrored the intensity that pounded so often in my veins.
In honor of that passion, and in honor of my wife, who has taught me about other ways to live, other experiences to have, other ways to find beauty, I offer a story of how desire for ecstasy could have killed me. (And how hearing voices may have saved my life.)
The Problem of Memoir
There is much about this story that I’m sure does not jive with what really happened. The other major players may disagree about what happened. I may even take some poetic license. But it is largely as I remember it.
I had neglected the electric bill.
I had neglected my student loans.
I was being evicted.
Friends helped get me nearly everything out of my apartment–and oh, please bless Dan, who cleaned out the refrigerator after there being no power for days–and we moved it all into another friend’s barn.
One of my dearest friends, my roommate Morgan, had said to me, “Listen, I want us to stay friends. I love you and I want us to stay together, so I have to move out.” She was right to do it. We’re best friends to this day, though how I deserve that, I have no idea.
The apartment, though, was mostly cleaned out. I realize that I am mixing up timelines here, that I am remembering things out of order and mixed together, and all kinds of emotionally charged events are coming together into this one narrative. But they happened, each of them.
At any rate, one night in January, I sat on the floor with my other dearest friend, Patrick, holding a cauldron in my lap with a candle burning in it. (You know, like you do when all your less important possessions have been moved.) I was crying and crying, staring alternately out at the snowy balcony and at the candle that lit my face against the dark, electricity-less room.
Patrick and I both worked second shift. It was something like 2:30 in the morning, as I recall.
And he said, “Where do you want to be right now?”
I said, “At the Farm. At Four Quarters. I need to see the Stones and the creek.”
I Need to be at the Farm
I answered with no idea that we’d go, that I’d get there. I said it in despair, knowing there was no way we’d get to the Farm, 2 hours or so away, snow on the ground. The road into camp would probably be impassable anyway.
“Let’s go,” Patrick replied.
So we went.
We took Route 26 all the way, driving way too fast, especially for winter, passing herds of deer along the way, grazing on the hills. (None of whom decided to leap in front of us, thanks be to Goddex.) We didn’t take the highway. We wound our way down Standing Stone Parkway, past the golfcourse there. We drove around the curve we called “Death Gravel” (Later we would learn a little shortcut that avoided it.).
It was dark, dark. But the sky was clear and there was a moon. Not full, I don’t think because I remember the stars so vividly.
And then we turned onto Silver Mills Road, just before the road sign for Northcraft, just after the little bridge over the creek. From Silver Mills Road we passed the Conrads’ farm and onto the Land of Four Quarters.
It was too early for anyone to be awake at the Farmhouse, so we drove on by, Patrick being careful, as we always said, to drive on the high parts, so as not to fall into one of the pits along the unpaved, ungraveled road. Up to the High Meadow. Down. Up again to where the Stone Circle–o, so small you were then; just so many dreams–was, like something close to five or seven Stones. Up to where the Fire Circle was on our right where in the summer one year there’d be a sign that said, “Freedom is not license.”
And down, down, down to the Big Bottoms. Down to the place I most wanted to be.
To Sideling Hill Creek in the depth of January.