Explorations of the Self, part 2

Trigger warning: This post includes descriptions of intimate partner violence. Read with intention and take care.

First, a poem written by Stanley Kunitz:

“The Layers”

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz was in his 70’s when he wrote this poem. While I am (thankfully) not yet half that age, the opening lines reflect the experience of my soul so far in this life:

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

// x x x //

On the way home from work today (as these things often start), I asked the name of the story knocking on my heart to be told. It spoke, and both a joy and a weight settled as I heard it’s name.

It starts with consideration of my outfit today. I’ve got black and white and red on, layers, with a necklace that I made and earrings I love. Black boots to be hip. I feel like this outfit reflects me. The fact that I have such clothing is one that I am grateful for – it truly is a gift to get to pick out your outfit in the morning and feel that it expresses a bit of your soul.

This links to clothing that I once had, that I loved. I was in college and loved shopping at thrift stores and places like TJ MAXX and Gabriel Brothers. While this was a reflection of my budget it was also a reflection of my style. I could find such a variety of colors and patterns with the options changing every week. Even so, clothing at this time was a difficult terrain to walk, as my boyfriend had spent years convincing me that modest yet shapely clothing was not, actually, modest. That to show a bit of neckline was an invitation and a seduction. What he meant what that clothing like that would invite his hands and he wouldn’t listen to what my mouth said.

There’s one shirt in particular that I really loved and remember so clearly. It was such a soft fabric.  Crew neckline with faded, deep red three-quarter sleeves and a muted, feminine swirl of colors on the body of the shirt. I remember so clearly the day my body was violated while wearing this shirt. Part of me wearing the shirt, part of me watching as his hands went where I repeatedly told them not to go.

He ruined my clothing with the stain of his unwanted touch.

One by one, my shirts and pants, bras and underwear became his. Memories in which he claimed some pieces remain, but mercifully most aren’t as clear as that lovely red shirt.

While at times I still wish that I could wear that soft shirt, those jeans… their purging was one of the few ways I had to get rid of what he had done once he was finally gone. And since it couldn’t actually be gotten rid of…at least I had fewer physical reminders.

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?

// x x x //

Years have gone by since those days. I’ve got new clothes and a loving man whose hands heed the words of my mouth. Joy runs the show now, yet fear lingers at times. An unexpected touch and my mind clouds, struggling for a second to remember the safety and warmth in which I am held. Perhaps writing these words is part of the remembering.

I am not the woman I was then. I’ve lost count of the versions of this Self.

IMG_7984.jpg

It’s not the lingering fear that I reference as I repeat these lines:

I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

What I grasp ahold of firmly in order to not stray is my tenderness. My strength and intuition. My curiosity. My nurturing heart that helps others heal and grow. The girl in the lovely red shirt had these same qualities and I have since learned that it’s not her that I need to get rid of. I had to get rid of all her clothes, but her I claim fiercely. And then –

I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

// x x x //

Like Stanley Kunitz, “I am not done with my changes” – and I hope that you aren’t either. Explorations of the Self, part 1, is decidedly lighter read and may offer a puzzle piece for your journey. You can read it here.

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