I’ve been trying to write a blog for a few days now. Nothing is working. So I’m posting an old piece. I wrote this in December 2012, just a day after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings. This is my response. It’s my heart, at that particular time, looking at the world, cringing, melting, unable to understand it. I live in Ohio, and I was completely unaffected by anything in Connecticut. But my head and my heart were searching, right after that, for some explanation. Didn’t make sense.
Last week, a lot of stuff didn’t make sense. Lots of crazy happened. Illnesses and surgery in my family, a family death among my friends, school stresses, extra-curricular stresses… And then there was so much joy. Real, genuine joy. How to reconcile the joy and the pain? How does it both exist so fully and so truly? Am I really that intricate of a person that I can weep and sing and laugh and sigh and yell all in the same breath? Are we all that way?
I’m adapting this piece into a scene for my theatre class. That’s why I revisited it. But after reading it, I know these are my missing words. The ones I searched for this week. It doesn’t match up completely. But God, once again, has used Past Courtney to speak to Present Courtney. Weird. Awesome.
This very well may be one of my favorite pieces I have ever written. It’s so unlike anything I usually write. It is very intentional. But it is also very real.
So, here it is. Times.
“I don’t get it!” she screamed at him. She was standing in the middle of the dock, and the small rowboat was to her left, bobbing in the water. The mountains were behind her and they silhouetted her.
He was standing on the concrete shore, the parking lot they passed for a beach. He looked at her, and the rowboat, and the mountains. The rain was coming. Of course it was coming. It always came at times like this. “I don’t get it.” She whispered now, because the quickening wind was drowning out her voice and her thoughts, and she liked that. “I don’t get why there is death inside some people. I don’t get why it eats them, turns them into black ash, makes them crumble to reveal a heartless chest cavity.”
She whispered, but he heard her. Maybe the wind was blowing the words to him. He glanced at the rowboat and the mountains, and then at her once more. He only stood.
The rain started. Right on cue, because rain always comes at times like this.
“Say something!” She was screaming again. “Give me an answer, give me something!” She sucked in a ragged, cold, mountain-air breath, and whispered. “I know it’s bigger than this confusion inside me. But you’ve got to answer me, or I’m gone.” She pointed down at the little rowboat when she said this. Raindrops soaked her hair into strings, and she had cried moments before so her nose and eyes were red. To look at her was to look at a thing tortured too long by too many thoughts, her stubborn optimism marred by overwhelming fear. It wasn’t beautiful, even though it should have been, with the mountains towering behind her and the rain and the water and the expanse between them.
He blinked slowly, head down for a long instant, before looking back at her. He took one step closer and she edged one inch closer to the boat.
“Where would you go?” he said finally.
She sighed. The rain was heavy but when she yelled her answer, it was calmer. A desperate, defeated calm.
“I don’t know. Maybe there’s a place to hide. Someplace where people don’t die before they die. Someplace decent.”
“Maybe,” he replied. The rain, as is common in times like these, died down a bit. Drizzle. He scuffed his boot against the concrete as he thought for a moment. “Yeah, maybe there is someplace like that. But I don’t think you believe you’ll find it.”
She only stared at him. They stared at each other a lot. They had been best friends a long time, after all. Staring is usually more important than most words at times like these. She gave him time to tell her what they both knew she knew.
“You said you don’t understand why there is death inside some people. Why it eats them and turns them into something not alive. But what if it’s inside all of us? What if it’s not just some people?”
The rain had let up. There was steam rising from the water in the bay, rolling down from the mountains standing, imposing, behind her. Because she didn’t want to be near another person, but because she also didn’t want to leave him, she sat down in the middle of the dock. He sat down too, ten or so feet away from her. He went on, because she let him.
“I think maybe some people do evil things because everyone has it in them. I think people kill other people because every day, in my own head, I think deathly thoughts, but they’re only ever thoughts. I think there is a creeping sort of plant in everyone’s chest cavity, one that grows slowly, and can be killed itself by most people, or at least kept at bay, at least can be pruned back often. But some people can’t handle it. Some people let the plant’s twisty vines squeeze the life out of their insides because there is nothing in them that tells them to control it. I think stuff is really screwed up. And I don’t think anyone gets it.”
She let his words travel between the expanse and into her, to the place words are kept. Then she spoke, and in her voice resonated all the pain in the world. Of course, the pain was her’s and her’s alone, and it belonged to no one else. But the thing that must be understood is that when someone says “all the anything in the world,” it is because their own world is heavy enough to suffice for the universe at large. Our own life is big enough to feel too big most of the time.
So, she spoke: “Why not me?”
He knew her best, so when she said this, he understood that she was not talking about what everyone else might have thought she would have been talking about. She wasn’t asking why she was never a victim. She was asking why the plant in her heart never overcame her, but overcame others.
The rain was going to come back. At times like this, the rainless moments are only a short reprieve. Eventually, it will be moderately sunny again, but when a storm comes, it rains for days.
“Why not any of us?” he said in a low, gravelly voice. “We’re all broken vessels, love. But some of us get patched, I guess. There’s no explaining it. There’s only living with it.” He paused, smiling halfheartedly. “I think we should be happy about it.”
“Feels like everyone is scared and angry. Like everyone’s got it in their heads that now is the time for their own vendetta to start,” she said. “I don’t think anyone cares much about dealing with life. They’re just pissed at it all going to hell.”
Quickly, he said, “It’s not going to hell any quicker than it has been for the last couple thousand years. It’s just easier to see it these days.”
The rain was starting again, but this time the wind didn’t return. Everything was softer. The fog swirled around, the water in the bay wasn’t as choppy, the rowboat didn’t bash into the dock.
“Maybe everyone is pissed because they all feel it too,” he mused. “The creeping plant, the broken places. Maybe the vendettas aren’t about this thing at all. Maybe the vendettas are just a safeguard against themselves.” He laughed suddenly. “You probably should leave then. There are far too many people in this world all full of hate.”
She smiled, pushing her tangled, stringy hair from her eyes. She reached out her foot and nudged the boat in the water, raising her eyebrows at him, like an invitation.
“Wanna come? We could float away from the confusion.”
“Nah,” he said. “Confusion’s always gonna be here. It’s a screwy place, under these mountains, on this shore. But I think, since we’re some of the ones who’ve been patched up, it’s probably sort of a duty for us to stay here. Keep showing people there’s hope, you know?”
She stood up very slowly and walked to him through the rain, leaving the boat and the mountains behind. She was smiling and so was he, which felt, for one fleeting instant, like a very wrong thing to be happening. But it’s only possible to be angry and upset and full of pain for a certain amount of time before it’s ridiculous not to go on with being normal. She knew this, and so did he, so they let it feel wrong for a second, then they let it be what it was.
“You think?” she said when she came to him. They began walking back toward town. “Hope? It’s our job?”
“It’s our part,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t think most of it is up to us.” He stared at her as they walked. They had both gotten good at staring and walking, since, as we now know, staring usually means more than speaking.
“You don’t patch broken things unless you intend to use them,” she wondered aloud. She stopped walking abruptly. He was one or two steps ahead of her before he stopped too, looking back at her. He just waited for her to work out the words that were already in her. “We have to go on without answers, don’t we?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I think.”
She nodded once, curtly, resolutely, resigned but freely resigned. “Okay.”
The rain, as it usually does at times like this, kept on. But they also kept walking.