Artwork by Hughie Lee-Smith
Driving home last week, I turned onto a road parallel to our road and like a magnet I was pulled into a work area where the town crew had recently cut down trees in close proximity to power lines. My heart plunged. I knew what I would witness BEFORE I encountered yet another raw reality. Of the few trees the crew cut down, MY SON’S tree was among them. The sight of the fresh stumps, chopped down trees and severed branches was like losing him all over again.
I blogged about HIS tree last summer when I wrote about our ailing cat’s disappearance: “Later, I discovered that during Chervony’s disappearance, he had sheltered under a tree on which my son’s name that he carved into it in 2008, remains. I came to the stunning realization that the cat had been undergoing his own fashion of mourning.”
Since my son’s passing, I avoided looking too much at HIS tree with its prevalent boxed letters: “Marshall 2008.” The actual sight of it reminded me how he was everywhere, but nowhere at all. Concurrently, knowing HIS tree stood signified my beloved son existed. Once shunned by a kindergarten teacher for lack of “fine motor skills,” he had carved up HIS tree with force, vim and artistic achievement. He mattered.
I could barely stand erect when I witnessed HIS tree cut to the ground and missing, a victim to a wood chipper. It felt like another stab spiked threw my heart, already slashed and beyond repair, a bleeding valve of hurt. It was another typical “Marshall Story.” When you couldn’t imagine him enduring any more blows in life, another targeted him. Brush, cut up bark and sawdust; I felt like I was looking at the irreversible damage through his eyes.
I could hear him under his breath, inwardly despairing, “Figures.”
My eyes were tear stained imagining the unimaginable. If he witnessed HIS tree gone, his eyes would be dry. He learned early how society expected men to soldier on and “be men.” Lift their bone dry-eyes up and look toward the sun no matter how much the rays burn through the irises.
Out of a variety of definitions of faith, one is “believing without seeing or fully comprehending something.”
I lived most of my life in a spiritual realm, believing without seeing, even after witnessing unimaginable, incomprehensible things that no human being should experience. Now, after recently being diagnosed with PTSD, one thing that helps me is sinking my teeth into REAL things like a hamburger. In other words, maybe some others can champion their lives on magic carpets woven with affirmations, positive thinking and happy thoughts, but fantasy thinking got me into a heap of trouble. Try, for instance, going to the bank and telling the teller you’ll pay your mortgage after your book hits the best seller’s list. I was in those shoes, and they aren’t Cinderella’s.
Finally, retiring my glass slippers fourteen months after my son’s demise, the following is a quote that I’ve also sunk my teeth into. The words help pull me up and put one foot in front of another. “In the 1960s, I began to lose my youthful dream of a better world – free of racism, free of the threat of instantaneous cremation of the bomb – and feed on a slow burning disillusionment. As a consequence, my work turned inward, and I began to seek some sort of essence to it all.”
The quote is from Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999). He was an American artist and teacher who is known for his highly realistic and somewhat surreal paintings of figures in desolate urban landscapes that are fraught with psychological tension.
Learning to reprogram myself for “a slow burning disillusionment,” I came face-to-face with MY SON’s cut down tree. Metaphorically, a life cut short; a life short-changed. I endured reliving the trauma AGAIN. Revisiting the unbearable head on. Immediately, I knew there is nowhere for me to turn outward without taking the chance of being plummeted. I can’t go down any farther. I am at ground level, eye-to-eye with a tree stump. At this level, for me finding the “essence to it all” is through creative expression. For Lee-Smith, it was artwork. In my case, reading, writing and ushering myself to make-believe worlds.
With this psyche I examined the damaged landscape. I soldiered away and tried to recall what my reading list entailed. As I dog paddled forward through my ocean of tears, I sailed on faith, believing somewhere in this heap of sawed down dust of nothing there is something of substance, just a kernel of meat for me to sink my teeth into.