The Year Of The Ungodly — a.k.a. 2016 — started off with a wailing screech like a cat with its tail caught in a door. To prove my point, I’ll admit I don’t remember a thing about January and move on to February, the month when I was abducted by aliens.
Mid-Month my husband got hammered with allergies that turned him into a snorting, snoring, coughing, shuffling remnant of humanity. How he got out of bed day after day and hauled it out to work, and directed a play that won regionals at State Thespian Festival is the stuff that’s fueled by passion that stays at a slow roiling boil forever. I was worried about him. I couldn’t understand how he’d survive the ordeal and wondered just how crazy he was to try.
But as my daughter has taught me, I went about my business of cranking out bad books with her command of “I’ll do me; you do you.” If he wanted to work himself into a grave, that was his business. I had mine.
He was sent home from the next level of competition, deemed too sick to stay. I felt like a jerk for dreading the task of driving for hours to pick him up and bring him home to his sickbed, but willing to do so to satisfy my inner martyr.
That was on a Sunday. By then I was feeling a bit ragged and achy. We spent the evening fighting over the last box of Kleenex and chugging chicken broth.
Aside from a few snippets of frightening conversation, a distant siren, and the peculiar feeling of tumbling through space in the dark, that’s the last I remember until Wednesday.
According to the medical records and what I’ve been told by family and friends, Monday morning my husband stumbled over me where I’d collapsed and had me hauled off by ambulance to hospital. I’ve read the report written by the EMTs and now know I almost didn’t survive that ride. My blood oxygen saturation was down to 56% (normal is 95% to 100%), and whatever infection had hit me had taken over my entire body, which was shutting down faster than a serial novelist “writing” with voice dictation.
After days of tests and being kept in ICU Isolation (couldn’t have me infecting the rest of the patients), it was determined I had the nastiest of nasty pneumonias, the one for which there is no vaccination or pristine lifestyle that can prevent it.
Or so they say. I know the truth, and that’s that I was abducted by aliens. And I have proof.
The left side of my face was covered in abrasions that resembled the ones on my arm, stomach, and one leg. All of them had a central patch surrounded by six to eight small round patches.
Now, doesn’t that sound like the handprint of an alien to you? It did to me and was the only thing that could explain the illness that almost took my life so suddenly. Pneumonia? Come on. I didn’t even have a cough. I think aliens whisked me away in the middle of the night, performed their tests, found me inferior (isn’t that a core fear many of us share, being so inferior even aliens don’t want us?), and thew me back. To my way of thinking, which is much better now, it’s also the only thing that explains the hallucinations I had while imprisoned in the hospital and for months after-wards at home with oxygen shooting up my nose.
The hallucinations weren’t big ones like back in the…err…I mean, the kind of thing you might read in a Stephen King novel. Little things, like a concrete curb one had to step down to enter my hospital room, the room changing shape and the bed in different positions around the room. That concrete curb was also on my mind when I got home and contemplated going to bed. Who would hold my hand to help me down that curb? And what did that curb mean? (I was told they had overdosed me on steroids to control the inflammation in my lungs, and that was the source of the hallucinations, but you can’t fool me.)
It’s my opinion that one cannot be abducted by aliens and ever go back to the bullshit of one’s former life, assuming that’s the gut feeling one has. Why would anyone let an opportunity like that pass them by?
Why go to the brink and not jump?
So I jumped.
And I tumbled without direction for the rest of the year.
When I was able, I found a gym with a pool and spent hours floating on my back with the water over my ears and listening to my breath. I ate and slept and watched hour upon hour of mindless TV.
I stopped writing. Cold turkey.
I stopped reading and trying to figure out life, the universe and everything. Stopped trying to figure out anything.
If I had known last January what I know this January, I’d not only have been keenly alert to my own power and authority over my life and my actions, I might even remember the month. I would have long ago stopped fighting so damned hard for the answers and asked only questions.
I wouldn’t try to save anyone or help them without being asked (filthy habit, that). I’d ignore more and focus on less. I’ve come to understand that life is not a journey; it’s a question, a different one for each of us. It’s when we stop asking that we begin the journey to meaningless dust. That’s my understanding. I’m sharing it for anyone who feels a tingle when reading it. No tingle? Find your own understanding.
As I’ve returned to reading, I’ve discovered that the books that sucker punch me are the ones with a theme deeply explored with questions that lead to more questions as they balance that fine line between awakening something inside without pushing my back against the wall of frustration. Magic. Only magic can do that, and it can’t be taught. Or maybe it’s a haunting. The best books in my pinpoint corner of the cosmos, haunt. I can’t disconnect from them.
I also understand I don’t have that magic. Ten thousand hours of focused practice be damned. We live in times that have convinced us we can do anything we desire if we follow a few simple rules, never give up, read the right books and take all the classes. Right. Got it. And this is why men can give birth.
The reason I don’t have the magic. Practice makes mediocrity perfect.
Never again will I hold counsel with anyone other than that still, small voice inside whose language I don’t recognize or understand, yet communicates in a way I can’t explain with words. Have you ever had a silent conversation with a Something much bigger than yourself, greater than a god, smarter than you, and with no pretense of wisdom? I don’t know what to say about it, other than…sorry, I got nothing to say. It’s what Joseph Campbell said about only the second best things are the stuff we can talk about. This type of conversation is the best, and there are no words. It’s all about surrender.
I once had a vocal coach who told me I’d be able to sing if I’d just surrender, let go, stop trying so hard and let myself be sung.
When I return to writing—if I return to writing something more than ditties like this one—it will be with surrender and writing as I am being written. Maybe I’ll finally hit the mark (”sin” in Ancient Greek means “to miss the mark”), and maybe my never-ending luck will cause my editor to say something like, “Alright then, you’ve finally given me a beautiful mess. Let’s dig in and get dirty with this thing. Let’s beat the daylights out of those aliens.”
Right now, I’m happy and feeling things changing in a way that’s swelling from the ground and putting me on my feet as they’ve never been planted in the earth before. It feels good.
And that’s that. My 2016 and new plans taking shape for 2017. I hope your year past was as prosperous.
All the best to you and yours in 2017. May good health and kind people follow you wherever you go, by foot or flight of imagination.
(For the curious, I finally know the what and why of that concrete curb.)