Friday, October 15, 2010

the stories I can't tell


There was a moment on Tuesday when I was driving on the West Seattle Bridge on my way to my boss' home office. I had already taken the wrong exit, backtracked so unsuccessfully as to travel an additional five miles in the wrong direction (back over the bridge, north on I-5, turning around in downtown Seattle from the James Street exit, finally getting back on I-5 south to then get back on the West Seattle Bridge to exit on Admiral, my originally intended trajectory---30 minutes late). As I was finally, wonderfully, miraculously headed back to where I needed to be, I thought about how I will never fully be able to describe just how impossible it is for me to navigate in a car.

I can tell you that I got lost, but nothing can do justice to the snarled tangle of streets, my complete lack of back-tracking prowess.

As I drove up Admiral, looking out over the expanse of Puget Sound and the city, the sun reflected on the water and back up into my eyes. I considered the bright light, my shaky hands holding the steering wheel tight. I knew that I would never be able to convey the moment to you. Knew that I would never be able to capture the sight and sound and feelings of the memory. I can only say that I get overwhelmed with the reality of a place and sometimes I lose my way. I try to keep my head clear, to know directions and write them down. But sometimes even when I've been somewhere a dozen times I get off track, make the turn too early, find myself down on Harbor Avenue near the shipyards, and the only thing I can do is stop. Turn back. Remove myself to a place that is familiar. Start over.

There is nothing to stop my worry when it happens, nothing to still my racing heart and the cold sweat. I have a series of panic attacks that go on to invite a dozen more panic attacks and then the whole neighborhood has a block party of panic attacks. This is what it's like inside my head when I think about driving to a new place, wrestling with maps and carefully written directions. Agonizing over details and right-hand turns, losing sleep over an impending voyage down an unknown street.

. . . . .

There are the smallest moments in the afternoon that feel like miniature wormholes. Given the inclination and the opportunity, I could dive into them. They would swallow me whole, sending me into an alternate life, a universe of possible futures. In those tiny afternoon moments I have the clearest understanding of how I can write about the glimpses I get into possible choices I might make and the life I'd lead because of them. But as soon as I have a computer in my hands, as soon as I'm able to convey these magical visions of wonder, the words fail. I am left sputtering keyboard nonsense and the opportunity to describe this feeling of amazing possibility is gone. There's no way to tell you any better than that.

. . . . .

Several weeks ago I was sewing in my studio. Bean was hanging out with me, sitting on the bed, watching an Elmo DVD. It was a warm day, and warmer still inside my studio with the lights on, the sewing machine whirring. I had compensated by opening the window. Normally I keep a heavy wooden block in the window sill to allow only a small 4-inch opening, but on this day I moved the block, tossed it onto the floor, opened the window as wide as it could go.

With my back to Bean, I worked quickly on the sewing machine. I listened to her chatter and turned to check on her every few minutes.

And then things were quiet. Just a few seconds of quiet, really, though now it seems like the quiet swallowed the room until there was only my breath, my fingers on fabric. And then this: Bean's scream, a choking sob of terror.

I turned to the sound and could barely translate what I was seeing: no sign of her head or upper body, only her legs wheeling drunkenly over the windowsill. My baby was literally hanging out the window. A window, I might add, on the second story of our house.

In the second it took me to understand what had happened, I had already leaped over my chair and onto the bed. I had already thrown my body over Bean's, was pulling her back inside as my arms scraped across the broken window screen.

It was the screen and our satellite dish that saved her life.

There are so few words to use in this description. Phrases like 'just in time' and 'shaking with relief' and 'dumbest thing I've ever done' don't come close.

Here's what happened: my baby fell through the window screen. The screen caught on our satellite dish outside the window. Bean fell on the screen, her legs still tangled on the window sill, her upper body and head resting precariously, dangerously, hideously on the roof outside the window. I pulled her back inside.

And then I collapsed into a shaking, terrified heap on top of my daughter.

. . . . .

Sometimes no matter what I say or how I say it, it isn't enough. Sometimes there are no words to describe what has happened or how I feel about it. In retrospect I can use words like humbled and grateful and so very very lucky. But even with all the time that has rolled between that horrible day with the window and today, I can't tell you the full story. I can't describe it, can't realize it, can't tell you because it is tangled in a place in my brain where no words live. Where there are only pictures and horribly raw emotions.

This is the place for the stories I can't tell.


Pickles and Dimes said...

Oh my God. I am so incredibly grateful that everything turned out OK.

Sibley Saga .... said...


Still am having the chills of horror and that horrible taste in my mouth of fear. For you both.

So happy Bean is okay.

Don't worry about words for that story. I'm sure at least every mother out there 'gets' it well enough.

Amy said...

Oh Whimsy. I'm trembling for you. I'm so thankful Alice is safe.

Rose said...

I think Seattle is just impossible to navigate, no matter who you are.

And I am so happy that Alice is okay!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

That was completely terrifying to read, so I can imagine how horrible it was to live through. I'm just so relieved for you all that she's okay.

Rainyday said...

This is a good place for stories that can't be told. Thank you for sharing.

What a terrifying moment for you and sweet Bean. There are no words. *hugs*

Bethsix said...

I have no words, really. I read this yesterday, and I still don't. I'm so so glad she's okay and you're okay, and no limbs or lives were lost. I can't imagine how scary that must've been.

It could have happened to anyone, for real. So scary.

Tamara said...

So glad your cute little bean is alright. I have been a shaking, terrified heap on top of my child once and it's not something I ever want to experience again. We were so close to the outcome not turning out to be a OK so we now pray more fervently for our family and friends safety.

tearese said...

I never dared to drive in Seattle by myself, so in that respect you're so much braver than I am.
And your words painted that terrifying moment far better than most of us could have, of that you can be sure.
Glad she's okay!