Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gray Fairy Boat

When I was a little girl growing up in the South, we used to hunt the beaches for Slipper Shells, which we fondly referred to as fairy boats because of their appearance. But, more than the grace of their shape, they hinted of a magical world where lovely creatures sailed safely on exotic seas. The imagined promise of an ethereal world just beyond our own, the proof of which we could hold in our hands and collect along our windowsills.

Later, as an adult in the Northwest, I would look forward to the occasional ride on a ferry boat across the Puget Sound. Although the boats were basically a shuttle to take people and their cars from Point A to Point B, there was nothing basic about the sunsets which could be viewed across the stern. And in the half light of twilight, with the waves dancing along the hull, if you closed your eyes just right, the view of Seattle would blur into a mythical skyline of possibilities revealing a world quite unlike our own.

Earlier yesterday, I read an article about the writer and performer, Spalding Gray, in The New Yorker, The Catastrophe, by Oliver Sacks. It delved into his traumatic brain injury and the medically un-explainable descent into crippling depression he suffered in the wake of it. An injury which so altered his life and changed who he was, it eventually led to him taking his own life.

One of the last things Spalding Gray did was board the Staten Island Ferry. He left no note. Told no one of his plans. The last moments of his life had no witness and his body washed up on the shore two months later.

The article was gracefully written by someone who knew the artist in the final years of his life, attempted to treat him, and grappled with trying to understand what was going on in his head.

However, it was read by a survivor who intimately understood far, far too well: the chaos of his brain injury, the pain in his body, the hurt in his mind, the evaporation of creativity, the despair of his soul, the isolation within, the loss of self and the end of hope.  Debilitating and consuming.

Throughout the day, the words of the article returned to me. At times, it literally paralyzed my thoughts in ways which can not be adequately conveyed. I understood as only a survivor can.

We all look into the abyss and at times the abyss most assuredly looks into us. But, as most survivors are secretly aware, sometimes the abyss actually calls out to us.

Like a Siren on the watery rocks below, the abyss can sing to us with whispered notes which reach into the darkest and most wounded part of us. A haunting voice promising escape and bittersweet relief from the ocean of hurt. A song which can both torment and soothe.

Reading words about a stranger's life, I recognized my own turmoil, frustration, and grief. I felt anew the loss and mourning of self so many survivors face daily. In a day already wrought with pain, it overwhelmed and took my breath away.

I fight daily to choose life. I face incredibly harsh realities to avoid taking a fairy boat of illusions. I feel the tug of the abyss for I have looked into it far too often. Sadly, the same Sirens are the soundtrack to my life and dreams. I know the promise of which they sing.

Surrounded by love, support, and medical treatment, Spalding Gray took an actual ferry boat in search of an elusive fairy boat to escape from the relentless pain and drowned in the East River.

His unique talent and powerful voice silenced and missed. His loss felt.

I can not judge him his choice, for I know the call of the abyss, the misleading safety shroud of the water below, and the song the Sirens were singing to him.

But just because we know the words, doesn't mean we have to sing along.

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