October 20 / Crete, Greece
I draw and write letters with my finger in the air, on my leg, the table. Lines unseen to the eye, motion that keeps me fixated. Rocking back and forth.
My other hand wanders toward my scalp. Claws come out. A scab days old, ready for dismemberment. I romance it with my finger, trace its every dried bit of crust. The impulse is overwhelming. To peel it from my skin.
I’ve been good these past days. Allowing the wounds to heal, the blood to fade from my hair. My hand falls back to my lap. A nagging compulsion drifts as shop owners begin to sweep the cobblestone street.
We are at a cafe in Crete.
I have to poop.
The cafe server, Lola, comes to our table. “A treat for you, because you are so nice and we love nice people.” She places a plate of two bite-sized, homemade eclairs in front of us. A big smile on her face.
Chris and I look at each other.
By now the continued desserts and endless food rotation on the cruise has handed us a white flag surrendering to impulse.
The many that circulate my life. Eating every sweet. Touching that one spot, because it must be done. Eighteen years of head picking. Endless scratching until my skin is raw and cracked. Drilling Q-Tips deep into my ears. Knuckles popped. Alcohol. Drugs. The potpourri of compulsive activity that has ransacked my day to day.
Possibly anxiety from being away from home has heightened it. I wake up almost every night with an uncontrollable urge to scratch my and pick my skin, woken by an itch that paralyzes my entire body. Clawing, prodding at trigger points that are now already calloused and damaged.
The sense of relief takes my breath away.
It is stronger than any pleasure I have endured.
Until the pain sets in shortly after, once the endorphins have passed.
I have to go to the bathroom to wash my hands. My ears begin to itch, like clockwork. Deep inside the canal, a debilitating sensation. I grab a Q-Tip from our toiletry bag. It invades my ear instantly. One fluid arc from bag to ear. A minute or two can pass as I go from one ear to the other, then back again. Circulating the cotton tipped stick rapidly, deeper into my ear passage until it hurts. Until the same burn is now firing in both ears. Until a fluid begins to seep out. I take a tissue and soak up the unknown drainage. I know I must be causing damage. I feel a vibration and pulsing in my left ear as I try to go back to sleep. A cold fluid still seeping from inside.
The trash can fills with Q-Tips. I have run through the bag we brought. I now rely on the stateroom attendant to bring new ones when he cleans our room.
During the day my fingers find their way to my scalp. In my ears to poke at any itch. On my back to scratch. Making excuses to go to the restroom so no one can see. Because the urge becomes so great. The sensation makes it hard to sit still. To breathe. Taking a shower inflicts pain as water runs over open wounds on my scalp or body. But I’ve become used to it. It has been accepted.
My pinky finger strokes a scab on the side of my head as I write. Addicted. Every part of me is addicted to something.
October 21 / At Sea
Morning enters gently. She lays a pale beginning over white bed linen. Soft, modest blues diluted by an otherwise darkened room. The bed sheets are an Antarctic desert. Crisp, white plains, rolling hills. Mountains form where feet lie beneath. A valley of shadow and highlight between Chris and me.
He sleeps, facing the foot wide gap between curtains, which signals for light to pool in.
A day at sea.
No obligation to be anywhere, but here.
Tired eyes shut. I swallow.
Sandpaper in my throat.
Thirteen days have trailed by. From Rome to Greece to Turkey. A blur of time, as if we had been plucked from reality and dropped into a new playing field.
I turn from the light. Curling my legs under the covers. Resting my left arm against my face.
I fall asleep.
Filled with, overflowing with, a great sadness. A beautiful, overwhelming emotion that has been dormant. Tears stream down my face. The settling of a deep ache in my heart, my chest, lungs. I haven’t cried for what could be a year. Two.
I want to run my fingers through it, explore the weighted emotion that coerces through every ounce of my fiber. Laid on a tin tray to dissect like in sixth grade science class. Needles holding open flaps of flesh that expose the marrow of its truth. With a magnifying glass in hand, I inspect each organ, every nook and cranny to understand. To understand the purity of emotion.
Tucked under sheets, lying on my stomach. Pen in hand, notebook before me, as if chasing a tornado. To capture the truth of this feeling. Discover and document the ache, the honest unraveling of something buried, hibernating inside of me.
And all it took was a film.
I watched an On Demand movie that threw me to the meat grinder, resulting in a full-fledged, guttural sob session. Nothing short of a snot fest.
But what grabbed my heart and squeezed till tears flowed?
The ultimate hunt to capture a feeling. To draw emotion out from another. To make someone feel the soul. To grab their very essence and shake until they can no longer see straight. To ignite laughter, sadness, tears, joy. To move the world, one person after another, the great vibration of our emotional existence.
I want to make you feel.
Like a lightning bug trapped in a mason jar. The moment – the heightened emotional experience – held forever through words, kept alive in the mind’s eye. The soul center.
Chris and I sit at a bar aboard the ship, watching an acoustic singer play “Knights in White Satin”. A twenty-something Irish guy name James, cradling his guitar, sits alone behind a microphone. His girlfriend, Layla, accompanies from her keyboard. A sultry pair who sink their teeth into the mood.
His eyes close as he belts lyrics beneath a gradually rotating colored light. Ochre to orange to red to purple to blue. Nothing exists in the room, but him. And this song. This song is one of my favorites.
Beauty I’d always missed
With these eyes before,
Just what the truth is
I can’t say anymore
Cause I love you
Yes I love
Oh, how I love you
I close my eyes and rock slowly from side to side, my hand over my chest where I can feel the lyrics. The weight of my body melts until nothing is left. Until I am a spirit breezing with the soul of his voice.
The song closes and the room is left shaken. An energy resides amongst the small crowd.
James sees me at the bar and signals a thumbs up. I requested a song last night that he offered to play tonight.
“This is one that was requested. I learned it last night and this morning,” James says, “It’s a beautiful song called ‘Burn’, by Ray Lamontagne.”
His Irish accent is intoxicating.
“And if you don’t like it, it’s his fault.” He points to me. I smile. I may have a little crush. Or maybe I just want to be him right now.
James adjusts his guitar.
“He’s even tuning it for you guys,” Layla says from behind her keyboard. “He played this song for me this morning and totally made me cry.”
James grabs his mic and looks at me. “Yeah, thanks for that by the way,” he says. “It put me in good favor with my lady.”
A few claps from the audience.
An electricity builds in my stomach. This song always broke me to pieces. Tortured beauty.
“Here it is,” James quietly speaks, “ ‘Burn.’ ”
The light above changes from purple to blue.
I am still.
The lyrics drip from his mouth with a soulful rasp, a depth well beyond his age. There was not a movement, not another sound in the bar, as he took the moment with every breath.
I was brought back to nights alone, listening to this song in tears. Feeling the helplessness of solitude, the inescapable grip of my own self-destruction years earlier.
The walls evaporate. People disappear. Chris fades from his seat. I am twenty-seven years old, driving at night while listening to “Burn” on repeat, belting the lyrics to quiet my heart.
Oblivious to the light just over yonder – the change bound to blow in just years ahead.
So don’t pay no mind
To my watering eyes
Must be something in the air
That I’m breathing
Yes’n try to ignore
All this blood on the floor
It’s just this heart on my sleeve
That’s a bleeding
He plays the last chord. I am back in the bar, feeling alive inside. Like something has awoken inside of me. Like he brought everyone in the room to a dark corner of his soul.
A feeling, captured. Lingering. Something indescribable, because so many heart strings are pulled, door after door opened until the bedrock of my spiritual journey is exposed.
I want to do that, I think, still trying to connect with reality.
I want to do that.