Quite often during the past several years I have felt myself a sleepwalker, moving through the world unconscious of the moment’s high issues, oblivious to its data, alert only to the stuff of bad dreams, the children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot, the bike boys stripping down stolen cars on the captive cripple’s ranch, the freeway sniper who feels “real bad” about picking off the family of five…Acquaintances read The New York Times, and try to tell me the news of the world. I listen to call-in shows. — Joan Didion, The White Album
Today I sit next to a pregnant woman who smells of blood. It mattes her hair, sullies her packet of tissues and brings her to shuddering tears. For some reason this puts me to thinking of my father and the horses he cared for, and how he told me years ago that they could smell the blood right off you. You don’t want that kind of trouble, he said. Rummaging through my bag I procure a tissue and the woman shakes her head no, and says, I’m fine. Behind her, a man that appears to be her husband whispers, be quiet, don’t make a scene, and I wonder if this is the equivalent of equine trouble.
On a television screen, a man says that it’s humane to dole out fresh works to heroine addicts. He talks about providing a controlled environment, a community of compassion, while a three-decade heroin user shoots not to get high, but to not get sick. He’s deep in the nod when he shakes his head and says he doesn’t remember what a life without junk was like.
A great woman falls to blight in her East Village apartment, is dead for days before anyone discovers her. It’s not the smell that gets you discovered, it’s the unpaid rent. This is a woman who shone too bright despite herself; she invited us to question not only our confining gender roles, but posited that nature itself should be questioned. Put on a jury trial and convicted for crimes against humanity. Children and women were shackled from birth. Before she died, friends found her wandering the streets, swathed in wigs and costumery, and speaking in tongues. Her plumage was her mask because all she wanted was a love that would not alter.
Last night I woke drenched, stirred out of slumber by a dream that unnerved me. Surrounded by the people I once loved, they speak only to a former version of me, a lesser one. A woman who was determined to ruin. A woman who would boomerang out into crowded thoroughfares just to get a rise out of you, who pushed you out into the street and pulled you back and yelled, Suicide! A woman who had her first nosebleed in front of her boss, but said she was fine, just fine, and could you give her a minute? No one wants that kind of trouble.
It occurs to me that randomness does not exist. Signs are deliberate, appearing only when you’re ready to see them. Didion notes that, Maybe that is one true way to see Bogota, to have it float in the mind until the need for it is visceral. It’s as if I’ve slept the sleep of children and have now only just woke, groggy and confused. Lately, I feel the need to protect, mother and be in a way I hadn’t before. Friends email me and say that they haven’t seen me this alive (Had I been dead this whole time? Had no one thought to dig me up from the earth? Or was it easier to continue planting your harvest over my cold body?) in years. I don’t know how to respond to this. Acquaintances talk about my chrysalis. I don’t know how to respond to this. Strangers cheer on my blooming. I don’t know how to respond to this.
All I know is this. This moment is mine. And the more I share it or allow you to navigate it, it becomes less mine. It becomes explained, defined, and put in a box. I’ve been figured out, understood, and suddenly resolved. But all this time I still haven’t figured out where I’m headed. Know what I mean?
I also know this: I’m following the signs. I’m playing out this hand and seeing where it takes me. And oddly enough it took me to two places I never thought I’d go.
MARKETS THAT DO NOT HAVE FOOD.
Normally, I’d run screaming from a vintage fair or a crafts booth, simply for the fact that I’m probably the least creative person when it comes to reinventing the old or creating the DIY new. I don’t know what to do with a gramophone or how one would don a tutu without evoking Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? commentary. However, I found myself wandering two on Sunday and feeling inspired by the books, linens and the patina of another era. First I visited a small market for local artists located on Piazza SS. Annunziata, adjacent to the Museum of the Innocents, and the second was the monthly antiques market on San Spirito.
Granted, I didn’t think about how I would incorporate these items into my home or life, rather, I felt inspired by the items in and of themselves. A slew of Italian medical books from the 1920s made me want to return to books I own at home on psychiatry. Trays and baskets of silver inspired characters that are confined by their masks of money, whose dolorous existence is only brought to bear by the accumulation of finery. A barking dog made me long for my cat. English china had me thinking of brunch parties in the spring.
Chandeliers have served as odd guideposts in Italy, reminding me that in my reflection there is always light. That there are always signs.