Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spiky Shadow

Some days I wake up with a hole in the middle of me; my brain a tangled, jangled mess of thoughts and nerves.

 Image found here
Usually it passes after a while, but it dogged me today like a spiky shadow, a hollow feeling topped with edginess, like a scooped out cake frosted with thumbtacks.

My head was pounding; it felt like I was hungover.  Ironically, feeling hungover is a trigger for me, because my former hangover cure was a drink, of course.

The day is spectacularly gorgeous; clear blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Apple cheeked kids playing in soccer games, parents cheering on the sidelines. Finn played in his very first soccer game today, and while I cheered along side everyone else, I could feel that itchiness crawling across my scalp.

They told me this may happen, I thought, as I tried to pinpoint what was wrong. The chemo has kicked me into a chemically induced menopause, or pre-menopause, or something.

I know, though, that it is something deeper, something darker. I don't want to deal with deep and dark, so  I take a nap and wake up feeling edgier and itchier than before.

At 6pm the kids start whining for supper.  I shoot Steve a helpless look. He raises his eyebrows at me and suggests I take a walk while he feeds the kids.   He can feel it, the edgy darkness, and he knows I'm struggling.

I don't feel like a walk; the sun is starting to set and I'm coming up with excuses in my head like contracting the EEE virus or being abducted by weirdos in a carpeted van, even as I'm pulling on my running sneakers and strapping on my iPod Nano.

I eschew my usual workout play list "Run, Ellie, Run" for something more soulful.  This isn't a power walk; this is a 'shake the cobwebs' walk.  So I click over to the play list "Keep Coming Back", crank up the volume and head out the door.

As I round the first corner, into a wooded area, I'm hit with the scents of changing seasons: citronella, freshly mowed grass, wood smoke and the faintest tinge of decaying leaves.  The air has a bite to it that wasn't there a week ago. The sun is sinking low on the horizon, although it isn't yet 7pm.

I close my eyes and inhale deeply, and I'm instantly transported back to my childhood. For me those smells carry the promise of new beginnings: the clank of my locker slamming shut, the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, the smell of a new pencil eraser.

Sometimes I have a hard time identifying emotions, especially tough ones like anger, sadness or regret.  But the scents in the air hit me like a brick wall and I know what it is, this dark thing that has been crawling around inside my head all day:  I miss my Dad.

It is a gorgeous fall day, and all these new beginnings are happening and he isn't here.

My iPod plays the opening bars to "Windows are Rolled Down", by Amos Lee, and I have to stop, sit down for a moment and breathe deeply to keep from crying. He wrote this song about the loss of a close friend.

Look up child, 
The world is born.
Shoe's untied,
And your soles are worn.

I'm sitting in a cemetery, of all places. I always cut through the cemetery on my walk, usually so absorbed in the infectious beat of Flo Rida that I don't give mortality a second thought.

I think about how I walked through this same cemetery with my Dad, two weeks before he died.  We strolled passed the ancient graves, quietly, each thinking our own respectful thoughts of the deceased.

Window are rolled down,
Sun is setting high.
Window are rolled down, 
I'm fixing to die.

I shake my head clear of these maudlin thoughts, and think of his beaming smile, of the bandanna he tied around his neck for his frequent power walks, of the walking stick he used to truck up steep hills and trails.

It brings a smile to my face, and I walk on.

Is it what you'd dreamed it'd be?
Are you locked up in this fantasy?
Oh, these miles that have torn us apart,
My new found faith, and my broken heart.

I pass a gaggle of pre-teen girls, practicing back bends in their front yard, their lithe bodies stretch impossibly.  A group of young boys ride by on their bikes, casting furtive looks their way.  The girls pretend not to see, but their giggles betray them.

As I head into the final stretch of my walk, to the opening bars of Phillip Phillips' "Home", I feel lighter, freer. The sun has all but set, and the warm yellow lights glowing from the windows of my house soften my heart, clear the final strands of cobwebs from my jangling brain.



  1. Oh Ellie I'm having a bleak day here, no reason either.....this brought on tears which I hope are cleansing.....

    1. Sorry you've got the spiky shadow, too, my friend. Here's to a sunnier day tomorrow. ODAT.


  2. I lost my dad suddenly 2 and 1/2 years ago. Last week, I was back in the same place he lived and died, and felt dogged by the same spiky shadow. It's still lurking around a week later. I'm sorry your dad is gone. I miss mine too.

  3. Waking up "with a hole in the middle of me" ... that sense of something missing, something important gone, never to return ... I've had that sensation several times since my own dad died in November 1993. Sometimes it's because I miss him so much. Other times it's because I'm glad he's not around to be hurt by the poison and greed of those who claim to have loved him... and that rejoicing awakens my shame for not wishing him back. Yet I would no more wish him back (even if I could) than I would thrust my own hand into a bed of cobras. For HIS sake.

    Identifying what is the root cause of that spiky shadow, that inner hollowness, goes a long way toward rendering it powerless. Knowing that the feelings are valid, that they are what they are, does much to help dissipate their unpleasantness as quickly as possible. Remembering what's (and who's) important is another way to finish that empty, vicious feeling off, to kill the beast who stalks and feeds on fear and insecurity. Surrounding myself with people who care, who accept, who love - fills that residual emptiness with gratitude, peace, courage, and joy. A precious friend reminded me of that yesterday. :)

    1. Your friend sounds wise indeed! :)

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful (and oh so true) comment.



  4. One of the most magnificent parts of being ill is when our beloved understands and takes over so we can clear our minds and hearts. It's amazing how they can read us and know what we need. And then provide it too. You area blessed to have your loved ones near you and I am so sorry about your dad. Words are inadequate to assuage grief; just know you are on my mind today as you work thru this miasma.

    1. Thank you, Lynda. You're right - I am so blessed to have love ones who understand... often times they can see the darkness rising up in me before I can. I am lucky indeed. And I'm lucky to know people like you, too, who always have such a beautiful perspective.



  5. I'm so glad Google gifted me with your blog! I'm a walker too, and can relate to this post. Lovely!

  6. What a healing walk! There is a line in a Wallace Stevens poem... "sometimes the truth depends on a walk around the lake"

    I had a similar day over the weekend; I also tried to clear my brain by going for a walk. I also listened to my Ipod Nano. But I didn't listen to music; on my walk, I listened to a podcast from the "Sounds True" program. I have about 200 episodes to catch up on...I'm guessing that's about 400 miles of walking. I was reminded in my listening that the world is about to come to an end on 12-21-12. The Mayan calander and all that. Shoot... I will never get caught up.

    Maybe I need to switch to music.

  7. So well said, Ellie. "Spiky shadow" is the perfect description.