Blunt Force Impact, a personal essay

The top of my bedroom dresser is buried again.  Outside, the sky is brittle blue, and there is snow on the ground.  My dresser top is littered with stray socks, bits of paper, stones, jewelry, a dead telephone, a newspaper clipping, and things I can’t yet see.  Deciding it’s a good day to clear it, I empty tissue paper out of a shoebox to begin with one thing empty.

It’s clear that this sudden need to clean my dresser top is a distraction.  I just reserved a motel room at the top of Rimrock Highway, a retreat in order to finish the final paper of my master’s program.  I asked for Room #9 on the second floor near the rocky slate wall rising above Rapid Creek—I’ve been there before.  The room smells of dust, old carpet, and smelly deodorizer—but it has no phone, and it’s cheap.  The subject of my paper is “belongingness.”  Ironic, isn’t it, to retreat from my husband, my son, and my eight-year-old granddaughter to write about belonging.

On my dresser top is a single small, tan pebble with a light streak running through it—It looks like the tip of a finger.  It came from the concentration camp outside of Dachau, probably hauled in with a load of rough gravel to keep the mud and memory from seeping up.  Beside the pebble is an airline ticket from Luthanthsa Air, 2002.

Belonging.  The word hold the submerged energy that sometimes fuels wars, splits families, turns one against another, and gives the illusion of innocence when guilt is the only reality.

Where do we belong? Does human behavior link to long ancestral lines, hidden forces operating within the larger family of origin?  Or are we subject, in a chilly way, only to formal structures dictating action, emotion, and experience?  I even resent being asked to choose a position, to select one camp and abandon all others.   What is the cost of this choosing?

The lone socks on my dresser are mated once again; blue to blue, beige to beige, paired for life, or until they separate once again.  I pick up a sand dollar, the first perfectly intact sand dollar I’ve ever found on all the beaches I have walked.  This one is from Orange County, California.  The sand dollar, along with several stones, rest on my dresser top by intention.  I like stones and shells.

Belongingness sounds like too simple a topic for a position paper.  I narrow the topic from belonging to “conscious belonging”.  Conscious belonging is about gaining the freedom of self to not just blindly belong but to pick and choose what to keep and what to discard, like the stuff on my dresser top.  Blind belonging is belonging because we fear not belonging.  It’s the go along game; choose a camp, take a position, and then fight to the death for that bit of ground.

There is a book by Rilke on my dresser top.  Poor, brilliant Rilke.  His mother lost a baby daughter and later named her son Rainer Marie after the dead daughter.  On my dresser top are movies stubs from Manhattan downtown.  They say Bowling, short for Bowling for Columbine.

There is a theme running through the things on my dresser top.  Or perhaps I only imagine the theme because of the paper.  The shootings at Columbine School are about belonging—or not.  Inclusion.  Exclusion.

Suddenly, I see what else is on my dresser top.  Two photos.  Just remembering them slips me back into early September.

The first photo is a long, horizontal picture of Lisa, my 17-year-old daughter at the wheel of her car.  Her smile is big and her left arm is extended straight out the window as if to say, “with attitude”.  Behind her is a giant, cloud-layered sky.

The second photo also has sky but is bare of clouds this time.  A steel powerline structure is centered in the image and on the earth below, tattered, scattered, and burned, is a single engine Cessna belonging to my first husband, the father of my three children—Lisa’s dad.  It’s a newspaper clipping that reads “Local Men Dead After Air Crash Near I-94 in Central North Dakota.

My breath catches again.  I remember that call in the middle of the night to tell Lisa her father was dead.  She screamed.  And as she screamed, her sister came in the door of her apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska and they screamed together.  I could hardly breath, listening to them scream, with me an impossible nine hours away, and my son still soundly asleep in his bed up in the sunroom.

Blunt force impact.  I will despise those words forever.

They went with their uncle to the site of the crash and threw carnations from memorial mourners over the crash site.  Then they dirtied their hands with soot and soil, digging like archeologists in search of any sign of him.  My eldest filmed the scene, ending with my 17-year-old son washing a chunk of metal that looked like a crude sculpture of cumulus nimbus clouds.  A piece of engine melted from form…to formless.  Tom’s back is to the camera, he squats, dipping the metal in a stock pond on a piece of prairie outside of Bismark, North Dakota while, in front of him, a silent sunset swallows his hurt.

Suddenly, I understand why my dresser top has piled up so high these past two months.  Where do I put all the things it holds?  How to assimilate, integrate, how to fit each item into the greater soul of my own life?  I can’t file and tuck these things away and I can’t get rid of them either.

Again I think about writing my position paper, and of the tasteless motel room waiting for me at the top of Rimrock where I’ll go and sit cross-legged on a blue bedspread for the next twenty-four hours and write about belonging, or not; about conscious belonging, or not.   And in the meantime, my dresser top will pile up again, and again, and again.

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Blunt Force Impact, a personal essay — 1 Comment

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