Friday, June 21, 2013

The Cliff

Sometimes my mind gets lost. I step to the edge of the cliff and look down. I have no intention of stepping off, I just want to see what is there. Swirling mist and hanging rain? Endless fields of moss roses? Oceans, endless oceans of churning waves and writhing kelp? Nothing, everything, the universe, despair joy? My thoughts wander and I need to remind myself to breathe. I do not lack inspiration, but every effort is rewarded by my body screaming "No!" I retreat and try to force myself to wake.

I spin upon my aching heels and watch the twisted trees sway in a salt breeze. There are words on the wind, clear as glass, sharp and grating. I can dance with them and hold them in my hands, but they refuse to become tangible. The fatigue carries them into a silver box that I am forced to carry with me but not open. The only key is remission, but relief is rare and fleeting, and bracketed by an inability to accomplish anything beyond caring for basic needs. My body refuses to let me heed the call of the twisted trees and the screaming words. I can walk toward the trees but they never get closer, and the words spit scathing insults which burrow under my skin and leave me dazed and breathless.

I turn back toward the cliff to escape the words and nearly fall off the ledge. I can see what is beyond now. Water churns against barnacled rocks. My foot slips. I catch myself but an avalanche of pebbles drop into the water. They plink upon the rocks and are immediately thrashed into oblivion by the waves. If I fell, the violent water would do the same to me. I know I am caught in dreamtime, but this dream is too vivid to be harmless. It is my mind on the precipice of giving up and drifting into a nonchalant cycle varying between asleep and not-quite-awake.

I step back and look down the other side of the cliff. My inspiration sits on a lower ledge -- ragged, filthy, hooded, and surrounded by hungry birds. He is forgotten by society, invisible, a shadow of the brilliant light he once was. I know his story, but he is afraid of me because I know. He is afraid I will reveal his brokenness to the world and drive him from outcast to reviled. I have told the first two-thirds of his story, but he knows it is the last third which will break him. He doesn't realize it will also redeem him. All he sees is the churning water below the cliff, while I see a bigger picture. I see his frailty, his kindness, his longing to be something other than a waif trying to decide if he is ready to lean a little forward and plunge off the bluff. "Wait here," I tell him as he tosses his last piece of bread to the birds. "I will return for you as soon as I wake. I will reveal your life as worthwhile."

I walk away from the cliff. The trees stay distant and the words still wail. I turn around to see where I came from. I no longer see the churning water and the ragged cliff. Instead, I see the light glistening off the tranquil water. I see a piece of my own whole. There is as much beauty in the distant water as there was in the moss roses, in the violent waves, in my fragile muse contemplating his past and future. The fatigue remains, but its sting is lessened. The pain in my hands flares, but it is tolerable for now. I'm afraid to push it toward intolerable, but I must. I promised my inspiration I would return for him, and he will haunt me forever if I don't. He is too beautiful to be forgotten, even as he refuses to reveal his face to anyone but me.

The sun sets, but now I know it will rise again on the other side of the darkness. The fatigue is temporary, part of an endless cycle of day and night. My days and nights are different from most and not restricted by a clock. As the sun falls below the waves, I notice my inspiration upon the shore. He is no longer on the cliff, but instead standing in the sand, his feet licked by the rising tide. I stand with him and reach for his hand. The water is icy. He squeezes my aching fingers and says, "I am no longer afraid of you."

"Neither am I," I reply.

Note: I took these photographs while on a family vacation last week. While looking through them, I realized they had a story to tell just as much as I do.

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