by: Jason Wyman
I was tasked with writing about openings by writer, educator, and activist Tara Dorabji for a new reading series I am co-producing with her called “The Bloom.” She wanted pieces on “how the art of writing provides openings for social change, portals if you will”. So naturally, my writer’s mind that loves the space between fiction and fact, reality and imagination, decided to start with a gaping hole that appears out of nowhere.
I didn’t know where it was going to take me. Would I fall through? Would I be transported to some far away land where equity and equality are realized? If I was transported, what would it look like? How would I know that I was in a new land? What would be my reaction?
All of these questions started racing through my mind. I decided to quiet them for a moment and just let the story tell itself. I surrendered to the process of writing.
And this is what was told.
It opened. Right there in front of me. It opened. I would like to say it surprised me, but I was expecting it. So I wasn’t surprised, per se. I was more awed that it actually happened. I thought the incantation, the one given to me as I prowled the alleys littered with sexual desperation, wouldn’t actually work. I mean, who expects to find real magic at 4am on a Tuesday? I did, though, and it was whispered to me by a guy whose toenails curved and whose breath smelled of Steel Reserve. When I paused in front of him unaware he was sleeping at my feet, he grabbed my ankle. Now, that surprised me. In my shock, I fell. My head then next to his he whispered the incantation to me. Concluding,“Only say this if you wish to fall again.”
I forgot him and the incantation when I picked myself up and turned my back to him. The memory only came back as a result of the letter I got from the Employment Development Department saying I had run out of all of my allocated benefits.
Two years of unemployment, of too-many-to-count applications and rejections, of missed payments and collections’ calls, of ignored healthcare spiraling into emergency visits, of counting change for McDonald’s valued meals, of apologetic responses to friends invitations. Two years of sinking, of falling, of spiraling downward. I thought there was no where lower to go. Then, I got EDD’s letter.
I spent the afternoon pacing around my studio apartment inventorying everything of value: the thousands of cds collected over decades, the Dolce and Gabbana suit bought as a birthday present whim, the ceramic bust of Einstein, the Cuisinart given as an X-mas gift, the six-year-old computer that sometimes won’t even turn on, the $50 gift card to Best Buy. Even if it all sold for a reasonable price, it still wouldn’t be enough to pay rent.
“Late as usual,” I thought to myself. Then, I laid down on the couch and took a nap.
As I slept, I dreamt.
I was again prowling the alley swimming from too much tequila and flying from one too many joints. A man wearing only leather suspenders attached to 501s and police boots whistled. A hobbling pigeon with a broken wing and deformed feet pecked at invisible crumbs. I saw a movement in the doorway of an abandoned fire station certain it was some sexual predator only to find out it was another decrepit pigeon. Many people slept in doorways and in the shadows behind the streetlights. I halted, couldn’t decide where to go, wanted just to stand in shadow. It was then I felt the hand on my ankle. I startled and fell.
I woke before the old man could again whisper his incantation sweating, needing a shower, feeling as if the bottom was falling beneath me. I walked to my closet of a bathroom, turned on the shower, and waited for the hot water to flow freely as I stared at myself in the mirror. I was crying. Again. It seems I cry almost every time I look at my reflection. How can I be 36 and still unemployed? How can I not pay my bills? How did I end up as this pitiful person who keeps sinking?
The reflection of memories stared back at me from the mirror. Misery just loves memories. There was my boss handing me my final check with a simple, “you know, it’s just business. And…business is slow right now.” There was the patronizing unemployment councilor shaming me for accepting benefits. There was my mother tall, hair black from youth sobbing behind the water heater as she said, “you are why I cry.” There was the priest whose familiar lips whispered sins and absolutions.
And with each reflection I slipped a little deeper.
Without bathing, I turned off the shower. I needed to leave my bathroom, to stop staring at the past. Then, my belly grumbled. There was no food in my fridge or cupboards. This I knew. The loose change had all been spent.
Having no glasses in the bathroom, I went to the kitchenette, grabbed a glass, filled it to overflowing. Messily, I gulped two glasses and filled a third. Still my belly grumbled. I needed another nap.
I turned around ready to walk the ten steps from my kitchenette to my couch as the incantation as if of its own volition escaped my lips. CRACK! Then, my lips called it forth again this time as loud as a thunder clap. CRACK!
The hole opened right there in front of me. A perfect circle, edges smooth, no debris to be found. Just a hole, a perfectly circular hole. It made me dizzy. I fell as foretold.
I am here on the other side, and I cannot see back into my past life. It is dark here, but it is not the darkness of despair or misery. It is not the hopelessness of falling. It is the darkness of the unknown, the uncharted, the undiscovered. It is terrifying. Yes, it is.
It is the freedom of surrender.
Jason Wyman is a life-long educator, writer, learner and performer. He finds spaces between things and then creates supports between them. He has helped professionalize youth development, created original theater, developed learning models based on peer exchange and shared expertise, written fables inspired by the darkness of fairy tales and fostered community rooted in social justice, creativity, and laughter. He lives in San Francisco with his beautiful husband and precocious cat. You can read more at www.14blackpoppies.com. (Photo by Andreea Cănăvoiu)