Cancer season arrives to us in just the way anyone would dream it might, with us chasing hermit crabs across the low tide seabed and alternatively yearning to sink into the ocean and shivering and shrieking when we muster the courage to dive in.
The world feels alternatively heavy and damp and weighted, or as light as a feather breeze and as kind as the golden 5 pm light that makes me crave milkshakes and bike rides.
Despite the wonderful sun and the grace of the sea that always seems so welcoming, anxiety creeps back unannounced but profound, making a contradiction of my light nature and causing me to feel grumpy and constantly worried, chewing on my fingernails and missing sleep.
Sometimes life seems so constrained in a way I find overwhelming. When I arrive to shoot the wedding reception of beautiful friends, I shyly rush to the little tank of iced tea but my hands shake too hard to hold the glass and I have to throw it away. Calling in for takeout on the phone or even ordering my favorite iced coffees at the cafe I love best feel wobbly and strained, I feel myself slipping out of my body and feel afraid like I don’t have control over my facial expressions and the way I move my head. I don’t know where to look and intrusive nonsensical thoughts like that people are watching or judging me take over my more bubbly and relaxed nature. My throat feels tight but I don’t want to cry and I often find myself feeling stricken, without motivation to break out from my train of thoughts and caught in a repetitive loop of woe. I know I shouldn’t feel afraid to drive down to the grocery store or to tell someone what I want on a sandwich, but there’s a constant pressure in the back of my mind that burdens me all the time, unless I’m in a quiet daze sunning on the sand and listening to the ocean and the kids playing with shovels and buckets nearby.
I have immense difficulty being around adult men other than Mylie and his family and besides kind Asher the therapist who talks with me on the phone every Monday night. I constantly feel like I just want to shrink away from them, mistrusting every interaction and petrified of being complimented or having to have a conversation.
I become hooked a little into escaping playing video games where I build peaceful little realms ruled by farms and windmills and foraging for berries on islands. Whenever I’m in pain, I retreat to the idyllic world of imagination, where nothing matters except for a quiet routine and a wide swath of forestland.
I can’t think at all about our Ben, or I feel like I’ll lose my mind and either become hysterical or dissolve. People didn’t say that when you set out to live with grief, you never stop feeling like all of a sudden you’ll throw up at the sight of a photograph or a name or even a gentle thought, and the sun looks too bright and you can’t get comfortable anywhere anymore.
But I wonder, am I closing myself off from something inch by inch, out of desperation to find a resolution. If I just don’t think about this or that, does it mean I can evade it? Or am I doing what C.S Lewis warned against, locking my heart in a selfish trunk where it slowly starves for breath.
I turn thirty in a quick blur of delight, overwhelmed and speechless at an incredibly special gift from my amazing love and the presence of my two best friends, who much to my relief, settle right into my new home in their loving and easygoing way. We take photos in the punchy blue hydrangeas and bike around the block and quickly clamber giggling into the cars when we get into trouble for setting off fireworks nearby. We swim in the rain and the tossing waves on the first day, accidentally swallowing mouthfuls of incredibly salty water, the long wraiths of seaweed fingers wrapped around my legs.
But all too soon, they’re back to lives in the UK and Canada, and I’m still at a standstill, though basking in my ever-expanding wild love for Mylie and my new routine for days which involves a lot of reading and sunshine and cuddling.
I have strange dreams all the time where I’m looking for something, having to make hasty last-minute decisions as danger approaches, desperately stuffing Ben’s little urn in my pockets and pulling favorite books off the shelf to put under my arms. Where am I… who am I? What am I supposed to take with me? What could I live without?
I confess it sort of from a place of melancholy to Asher over the phone; I don’t know if I should be taking photos anymore. I don’t know if I should be writing. Nothing feels quite like it fits and the drive and passion I wish came naturally to me, doesn’t. I get hungry eyes over little babies in sunglasses playing on the beach with their Mum and Dad and I wonder if I’m just not given over to career success, if maybe my projects and visions and the things I get so excited over are old-fashioned and relatively meaningless in the sea of people creating and sharing. I don’t know what direction to take the Light Keepers in, I don’t know how to direct anything or even myself and I constantly have this sinking feeling that I’m lagging behind in life. I just want big affection, I want to be a sweet Mama, I want a family to bury myself inside of. But at the same time, I always have that little whisper urging me not to hide from the world, not even in love.
I feel like my heart could pop watching music videos or Stranger Things or reading manga or any novel… I love stories so much I could drool over them for the rest of my life. I want to take cinematic photos in delicious, streaming light. The truth is, I just so badly want it to be easy. I want to know just what to do. I want some artists hideaway to appear in front of me with dusty beams of sunshine and old walls and someone sympathetic to stand in it just so.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m just craving the illusion of creating a life that soars and plummets in just the right places, instead of the mess I constantly worry about, with so little clarity and awkward instincts. If only things were tidy like in a film, the camera pans and the characters take a breather, the monsters arm waits in midair and there’s time to calculate and for the music to fall into place and guide the next action.
When I take a deep breath and am frank with myself, it comes down to being afraid to take the action. I’m a dreamer and that comes at the cost sometimes of my doing side. It’s one thing to have an endless repertoire of ideas and characters and plots to pull from, but I often don’t bring them to life besides within my own mind.
I’m not much of a go-getter, but I admit I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to be to still have a vibrant career. Of course society remembers our bright stars very visibly, and they deserve their accolades. But I try to remember the quiet visionaries who are motivated by persistence in spite of their own self-doubt are just as beneficial to a world enhanced by storytelling. I remember seeing writing that said that if the only birds that sang were the ones who were the absolute best at it, the forest would be a very quiet place. There’s something to be said for devotion. The person attending prayer at 8 am every morning who doesn’t tell anyone they go. The kisses and breakfasts made that our social media never sees. The ‘before’. The process.
The gentility of our lives lived in the details that go un-celebrated but which are of course, our real lives, the bread and butter of our days here.
The truth is that I might be afraid of my own potential, my sparkle and flames. I might be afraid of what would happen if I wrote a book and told the truth, and people who care about me read it and said ‘Well Jesus Christ, this isn’t who I thought Lu was inside’
I might be afraid of success, or I might be afraid even just to show up to myself, afraid to make my way back through a slew of haunted houses and ashamed to acknowledge how many times I thought ‘This is it, I’ve found my life’, only to eventually see it washed away.
And I remember the conscious decisions to shrink myself, to mute my voice and my actions, to stop looking people in the eye, to be quiet so I could be an Impressionist painting and just blur and blend and soak into the scenery and pray that I was pretty and blameless like water lilies or a picnic on the banks. If I could just be so good, wouldn’t that mean people had to love you?
When did I decide it was better to be pleasing than present and what have I been telling myself all these years, arguing silently from the back of my mind that others preference for me must be to live invisibly.
But here by the ocean guarded by a whole new way of being and loving, those kinds of beliefs are unraveling. One night at the beach, the whole family is playing in the water as the sun sets and I don’t cautiously tiptoe across the sandbar with my floaty pressed to my chest, nervously scanning for big fish or whatever lives beneath all that frothy blue.
I find my love, my Mylie over and over again to wrap my hands around his neck, and the waves go right up my nose and down the back of my throat when they wash over my face, but the friendly wide ocean is now only playful, enveloping arms. The water is the temperature of my skin and every time a big enough wave comes close to the shore, my love shows me how to jump into it, kicking off from the sand with your arms over your head like a plank of wood. In the rolling surf, I forget I’m a person with so many questions.
I may as well be a bright, exhausted wave reaching the finish line again and again, only to pour back out and do it all again over and over. The sky and the water are blushing. I can’t help but remember for a moment the visceral knowledge of how my Ben left in a summer just like this, but the electricity of the memory doesn’t paralyze me with grief and terror in it’s older way.
The water and I are each other, all is forgiveness. I put my whole body back below the sea.