This is a post I started quite a while ago, have just stumbled across again and so decided to finish.

My wife sent me an article – What It’s Like to Live in a Space the Size of a Closet – about a writer living in a sub 175 sqft apartment in Seattle. It got me thinking about possessions. Paulette talks about how she’s actually found happiness once she got used to the idea of living in such a small space. What really struck me was a comment about stuff. It moved me to read about how she stood in her dad’s house an hour after he died and realized all his prized possessions was stuff that had no meaning to her. I’ve had my own experience being overwhelmed by somebody else’s stuff.

How much stuff we accumulate! I’ve come to be very aware of this fact. A few years ago I moved out of a house I’d spent 13 years in. I had so loved the house when I moved in because it had a basement, a garage, big closets, and a huge forested yard. I loved it for the space and I loved it for the shaded seclusion of that yard. Over the years things accumulated in all that space bit by bit. The clothes my son outgrew, the toys he never played with anymore, tools for the yard and house, implements in the kitchen, boxes of photos and more.

My Ex’s parent passed away suddenly and all of the beloved items of a remembered childhood arrived in our home to sit beloved but in boxes lining the basement and closets. The stuff grew. It felt important, as though I was less without all that stuff.

It overflowed as my mother came to live with me after she left a bad relationship of her own. Her stuff came with her filling the remaining space in the basement. When she moved out much of her belongings stayed. My child grew and his old nursery became a place to store yet more things my Ex couldn’t bear to sort through or part with.

The growth of belongings and ferocity with which they were protected overwhelmed and frightened me. I didn’t see it at the time, but they were an attempt to exercise control over things that couldn’t be controlled. The loss of a parent that couldn’t be controlled or accepted. The unwillingness to accept the growing up and moving on of a child maturing into their own. Eventually I realized my Ex controlled me too. I wasn’t allowed to grow, change or be myself. I had to be who I had always been.

As the relationship finally reached then end of its decade long crumble, I decided I needed to love myself and live my own life on my terms. I moved out and left so much behind. I moved for safety, for my own space, to start to finally live my own life. There wasn’t much to take. Some clothes, some books, A few kitchen things. Stuff that was necessary or the felt vitally important to making it through the first few weeks. Besides my Ex didn’t want me to take much of anything. Still exerting control through stuff.

What little I left with didn’t feel like enough, and yet at the same time it did. Over a few weeks as I started to settle, it became apparent it was enough, plenty in fact. Suddenly that confusion started to make more sense. The overburden of stuff had been as restrictive and suffocating as much as the relationship had been. As my Ex cleared the house to sell it, I wanted none of it. I needed to be free.

It was a chore clearing the decade of detritus in that house. I seethed with resentment at having to deal with somebody else’s problem. Not only was it somebody else’s problem, it was one I had finally felt like I had escaped, yet I was sucked back in, controlled by that pile of stuff one last time. It was a mad, painful dash against time to clear the piles before it sold. I was there cleaning until minutes before the closing.

In the end, it all happened and all the things I didn’t want or need went to a garage sale or donation. I didn’t get a penny for any of its but in the end I got something worth so much more – I was no longer tied to that pile of stuff.  I felt unburdened, clean and free. I wasted so much of my life trapped by things I never needed, by other people’s stuff.

Unwanted Holidays

Most people when asked what comes to mind when they think of a “holiday” will likely describe something along the lines of: “A time for relaxation, rest and ease celebrated through a mix of tradition and family.” You might hear a bit about the stresses around planning, travel, dealing with family, or finances. For a trauma survivor though holidays can be difficult to navigate without reliving the past.

For most people, a holiday celebration can be a bit like a trip to Disneyland, a carefree time with a joyous surprise around every corner. For someone like me it is more akin to a trip to Edisto Beach, South Carolina which has a surprising number of (mostly harmless) jellyfish.

Looking over the sun drenched sand and water, all seems right with the world. Wading out into the water, first ankles then calves swishing through the salty foam swirling in and out with the waves, toes dig into the sand underneath. Sand that washes away a bit with each wave that pulls back out to sea leaving a slightly less sure footing. Serene and calming, the water entices further steps until suddenly jellyfish surround. They wash by in the ebb and flow as the water grows slightly deeper. Wondrous forms captivating all around, the touch of them on skin tingly, fleeting and pleasant. Then a transient burning, twisting which causes a sudden gasp.

No mind, a sensation quickly forgotten, yes perhaps but a passing sensation. The calm flowing enchantment of the jellies soothes the body as the mind drifts. Moving forward again after that unreal interlude. Sun and sky above, ethereal jellies encompassing the body below as joy dawns from watching their forms. Searing, tearing unexpected pain wraps the body cutting through all. Back out of the water, stumbling up the beach, collapsing onto a towel as breath tries to cut through pain. Conscious effort to breathe, to make things at least OK with the world again…

I spend most of my life not knowing certain things, simply because knowing them would be too much to bear. I couldn’t possibly know those kinds of things and still be a functional person in our world. So knowledge is hidden, buried safely from my awareness. Yet, like the unseen stinging jellyfish, hidden memories always lie in wait to ambush me, mores on a holiday.

It seems for most people memories associated with holidays are stronger, and easier to access. Pleasant memories of the past reinforce present experiences making them more enjoyable and reinforcing them. One memory connects and leads to another. Thinking of Memorial day leads to memories of grilling, then watermelon and swimming. That may lead to connected memories such as the smell of sun screen and the feel of a blanket on the sand. Pleasant enough.

With my experiences, each of those connected memories is a minefield of stinging jellies. I never know which memory will be connected to something that will leave me remembering too much, triggered and struggling to breathe on that beach. So this Memorial day I’m actually relieved to be home, to be having a quiet holiday as are so many others.

Summer holidays usually leave me asking the universe fora day of rain to give me relief from crowds, heat, grills, and fireworks. A reason to stay home where I can limit the number of memories I must stumble across and safely manage the triggers that will inevitably flow from them. Well, and I just love rain.

Rain pulls me right down to the ground, roots my feet to the dirt below me and connects me to the earth. It blots out the world and drowns out sound. Standing in the rain it is impossible for me to be in the future or the past. Sound fills my ears, cool moistness touches my skin, mist fills my vision, the smell of a wet world floods my nostrils. There is nothing for me but this moment in time. The world, for just a moment, is right.

So here I sit on our balcony, eating hot dogs, salad and potato chips while I watch the world go by. Sad for the state of the world which is keeping me home, yet happy for the respite it gives me this day. Happy to have a chance to avoid so many of the things I can’t, don’t want to know. Happy to try to not get dragged into the ocean on this summer holiday.

Then the rain begins…

Moon Over Home

Trying to find normality while in the midst of this covid-life feels like a fruitless task most of the time. The brain alternates between getting on the hamster wheel of spinning thought going nowhere, or completely disconnecting. Spacing out staring at the wall. There is also a third possibility. Napping for no apparent reason.

I managed to do all three this afternoon. After a flurry of activity earlier in the day, I wound up on the couch staring at the opposite wall, half aware of a painting from my friend Lorna on my wall, half disconnected. Then slowly falling into a nap. I woke, mind already churning and turned again to the news outlets flipping endlessly through articles, unable to truly occupy my mind.

I miss being able to lose myself in a book like I have so many times in the past. It is an ability that seems to come and go now for no particular reason I can discern. At the moment it’s gone. So my restless mental hamster was on the wheel running trying to find a place to rest. Finally after an hour or so it occurred to me I should use one of my coping mechanisms – stepping outside.

Up off the couch and out onto the balcony. Pleasant, late evening warm spring air greeted me. I took in the comforting slanting rays of sun illuminating the building across the way. Soaking in the embrace of comfort and calm, I glanced up. A waxing gibbous moon, just past halfway way to full stared down at me from a slice of sky above.

It sparked something inside.

I used to love astronomy in another life. That life I had before my childhood trauma came to haunt me. For just a moment the joy of seeing a bit of the cosmos from my own private vantage point on the universe came back. It filled my emptiness inside and helped me find my feet below me, the sky above. Memories of laying on a picnic table stargazing through binoculars as a child filled me. Again the wonder of the cosmos presented itself.

I remembered my camera, my desire to take back photography, and excitement rose at the thought of actually being able to capture a few pictures of something steady, solid and eternal.

Long shot of the moon over an urban office building in the evening.

A few wide hand held snaps, then some close up ones. The tripod came out when my hand wasn’t quite steady enough for such a small object with a long lens. Then more precious moments spent just taking in the eerie, but pleasant quiet of a world still not quite awake from covid reclusion.

And now? Contentment flowing from doing something creative. Remembering how much I loved astronomy and space as a small child, trips to the planetarium, gazing at the stars, reading about space, watching the first shuttle launch and land. The sweetness of those childhood memories, and also the bittersweetness of knowing darkness was underneath all of those memories, hidden even from me.

Reconnected to the world I am feeling again, and that makes me feel alive.

Closeup of the waxing gibbous moon in the evening sky

Interesting Astronomy links – Great for checking on the current phase of the moon.

ClearDarkSky – An astronomer’s forecast for locations in North America, there could be one near you. I’d like to visit here sometime Casitas de Gila Observatory

WorldWide Telescope – an interactive walk through the skies right from your browser.