Palimpsest

noun
a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

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The same heaviness that would later make a home in the foot that controls the gas pedal in every car I’ve ever driven was born in my right hand. In those ancient days of being forced to learn cursive handwriting and taking notes in class, heavy was the hand that held the pencil.

I’d press my pencil into the paper so hard the lead would break so much, teachers would insist I’d keep multiple sharpened pencils at my desk. I’d erase just as hard as I’d write, my anger at my mistakes sometimes even causing the paper to give up the ghost.

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No matter how delicate I tried to be, the weight of my hand, my thoughts, the actions of my creation left a mark. No matter how well the bar of rubber was made, it could not erase the imprint of what I had committed to the page just minutes before. No matter how bad I wanted to erase it from existence, the imprint of its history remained there.

My personal journals, cheap spiral notebooks of poems and short stories unsent letters and emotional catharsis, where all imprinted pages deep with words and their associated scribbles. They looked like football plays you’d see in movies, drawn on blackboards all Xs and Os. The last pages could be grave rubbings of my emotional breakdowns and breakthroughs. A clear indication of what and where I was but not yet who or where I would be.

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I think somewhere on this blog, I’ve quoted Heraclitus’ “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” And if I did, it was probably rather poorly. The meaning behind the statement stands. We do not stay the same person throughout the entirety of our lives. Each challenge, each event, each change (large or small) both add and take away from who we are. If we, the human machine, are functioning correctly, we are changing and growing.

That doesn’t mean that each change morphs us into a complete tabula rasa. We are not one of those magnetic drawing pads kids have where you can just slide a wand and erase everything that ever was. Despite our growth, we keep the scars of the wounds that made us. Sometimes, it’s not scars that we keep. Sometimes, it’s the wounds. The bleeding, raw, unhealed wounds.

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I’ve talked about why this time of the year is hard on me. But this week has been exceptionally stressful.
As I write this is the 7th anniversary of my eldest son’s death. I have been functional today, more than years past for sure, but still hemorrhaging internally from shrapnel buried deep inside.

In the seven years since the morning we had to walk away from the hospital without him, I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I’ve become a new person through necessity but also though will and determination.

For a while, I was not the best version of myself. It was if the person I was had been erased.

I was like that paper I used to write on in elementary school. Who I was had been erased. It would take more than a few years for me to figure out that the nuclear bomb that changed my world on the day my beautiful son died wasn’t much different than those cheap hard plastic erasers I hated that topped the cheap pencils I used as a kid.

While they changed things, erased things, removed things, and sometimes even ripped the paper, they didn’t do shit to change the parts that are rooted down into the pages beyond the top page. They didn’t do shit to the things that were entrenched in my soul.

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My love for him was not taken from me. My love for my husband was not taken from me. The love for my remaining child and the two that would come after was not taken. And after many years of trial and error, and after a lot of skin shedding and toxicity removing, when I held myself just right and let the light shine in just the right ways, love for myself and the person I was wasn’t totally taken from me. My identity as a person wasn’t taken from me.

Those are the lines I am struggling to retrace now. And I feel that I will continue to follow their near transparent lines for many years to come. No matter what has changed, what life events have moved me past what has happened, it’s all there. Not all of it is worth reliving or repeating. I can not expect to be the same woman I was before the tragedy. I have learned, and lost, too much to try to go back. I don’t want that. What I do want it is to slowly try to obtain the little parts of myself that I have lost to grief since. It’s been seven years. I’m okay with it taking a lifetime more. My love for him will be eternal. My missing him will be eternal as well.

Grief is the ultimate life-changing event. It’s a starving fire. It will literally consume everything it touches if you leave it unattended for any amount of time. My belief is that part of grief’s power comes from it being an act of love. And we all know how powerful acts of love are. So if I can sneak some things back from its grasp, if I can look beyond the current writing and see what was there before, I’m going to keep trying.

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