To Sleep Again

Eleven years ago today I broke my neck and foot and sustained a severe concussion at a Boston production of Sleep No More. I was taking in this annoyingly avant-garde staging of Macbeth (yes, the cursed play) with my best friend and first boyfriend, all of us reunited for our 20th high school reunion, when I pushed through one of its many mysterious curtains to….fall in the darkness onto a hardwood floor from a stage 15 feet above. The Punch Drunk players had been too punch drunk to safely rope it off, apparently.

Every year, my body reminds me of the anniversary of this accident by rebooting my symptoms, and every year I am shocked anew. This year–the last of my 40s, the worst in our country’s history–my neck and back spasms are particularly acute. I have not walked or stood without debilitating pain for five days now. I am terrified of being alone while this vulnerable. I am terrified I won’t regain my health. Both fears are well grounded in reality.

Yesterday I bottomed out and am still in that abyss. It is from here that I am writing to you. It started with landlord troubles, which always scare me because I fear losing my home. Then a dear friend forgot to come by (he had good reason) so I wallowed in dirty clothes and dirty dishes I could not clean myself. Then my sometimes lover once again did not check up on me and did not have a good reason, which is why he is only a sometimes lover and I am a fool for still knowing him. Another friend surprised me with his brand of practical magic–I don’t want to gloss over this–but by evening my spasms were so bad I had to crawl into the kitchen to feed Grace. Afterward she pounced on the couch with uncharacteristic force and two of its legs flew off. Then a reproduction painting I’d found at a flea market flew off the wall and the glass encasing it shattered on my bedroom rug. I am too injured to clean that glass myself. So I feel trapped because I am trapped–afraid to walk lest I step on a shard I’m too injured to extract myself.

I am not making any of this up. I wasn’t even going to include that detail about the painting because it seems so unlikely except that I googled “woman floating in darkness” as I was searching for images for this piece, and the painting that had just broke appeared in the results. That is when I learned it was entitled “Hope.” I do not interpret this as a negative omen. I interpret this as an urgent reminder.

This is the first time I am writing about my accident. At first I was silent because I was knee-deep in a lawsuit and later because I wished to forget this terrifying experiences entirely. I still don’t want to write about it much, but one detail has been so hijacking me that I’m sharing it here. As I was being wheeled into X Ray that night, I grabbed the hands of my friends and said, “I’m going to quit my job at Us Weekly and work as a psychic.” Everyone took that declaration as a sign of severe cognitive impairment. I think I did, too. But I never worked another day at the gossip magazine where I’d aided the ascent of such bloviating bottom-feeders as Donald Trump. Instead I began to build a very different life–one I’m still trying to stabilize, one in which every lesson is incorporated into my burgeoning intuitive practice.

“Hope,” by George Frederic Watts

I wonder if that’s what the recurrence of these symptoms are about today. I wonder if once again they will produce much-needed revelations so I may be of greater service to myself and others. But I know only one thing for sure: I experience the unknown, any unknown, as pure terror–as lying awake and alone in the dark, helpless in fear and pain. Precisely where I was last night and am right now– on some level still hurtling blindly off a stage I didn’t know I was on.

To get back up I need to surrender to the unconscious–to sleep, perchance to dream. I need to accept that hope is predicated on the acceptance of the unknown. That our bodies are time travelers’ maps, and that terrible accidents are also scavenger hunt clues, terrible and terrific coincidences that in fact are not coincidences at all so much as breadcrumb trails to better places. Which I find so hard to swallow because crumbs are all I’ve ever known and I’m very very sick of them. I do not know what it will take for me to learn a different way, but this is what I most wish to learn.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who have extended a hand, both this week and over this very fraught last decade. I hope to better meet you in the days and decades to come. I hope to trust.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy