Note: I haven’t written a creative essay in many years, but I was inspired to write this from a conversation that I had with a companion. I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed returning to one of my favorite essay styles. ~Akilah
The Book of Our Lives
An artist and I were talking about our work, the creations we’ve accomplished and our visions of creations to come. We talked of the energy that is required for art, the focus, and especially the isolation and solitude that often accompany that focus. We talked about the seasons of life that we find ourselves in, the idea of the re-invention of the self, as artist, as human-being. The conversation seemed to suggest that we were exchanging pages from the book of our lives, a book that I did not realize that I had been writing.
This morning, close to a week after the conversation, I wake up, at 5:15 a.m., after having slept with the conversation in mind, a little disoriented and unsettled. As I prepare what has become a morning ritual drink, 16 ounces of celery juice, I reflect on our conversation, but even more, the book of my life. Certain now that it existed, I ask it to come into full view. I want to examine it. I want to know the titles of the chapters, recurrent themes. I want some idea of the conclusion. Would there be an epilogue? And finally, is this book one in a series?
Place of birth and family genealogy is detailed in the introduction. Scanty details from my father’s side, an only child, who would grow up to be the caretaker of his ailing mother, smiling and laughing little and dying of a massive heartbreak, 10 months before I graduate from high school. My mother, haunted by episodes of bipolar disorder, navigated her way through life despite only 7 years of formal education. She was the youngest of 22 children. I am the middle of 7.
There’s a chapter on my childhood. At four years old, I watch in terror as flames consume the house across the street. For months, the heat of the flames, the screaming and weeping would appear in my dreams. Then here in kindergarten, in my patent leather shoes, sitting in a circle with my classmates, I hear a story about Dick and Jane, two frail, blonde haired white children, read by a tall white lady, with a German name, Mrs. Vanderpool. Getting my first period and wondering how long it would last; my baptism in the basement of the neighborhood church, bearing the torture of the hot comb and Dixie Peach hair grease.
In the chapter on church and religion, I encounter an enigmatic figure, Jesus of Nazareth. His life seemed like a riddle that I imagined that God wanted us to solve, with scanty details and misguided clues. I do not understand how God would allow the Roman colonialists to kill his child, and at the age of 15, I cease to believe in the story of the crucifixion, consumed, instead, by the miracle of the resurrection.
Here is a chapter on rude awakenings, sudden realizations that there was much truth to what society, my parents and school taught me. But there was an equal measure of misinformation and lies. Greece is not the birthplace of civilization, and Rome’s history of sophistication is over-exaggerated. The Black Power Movement is logical, and Huey Newton is my hero and Angela Davis, a goddess and genius. The Dogan are Sirians, no doubt.
Spring and love is the next chapter. The smell of rain and the taste of a first kiss; drinking cheap wine out of the bottle and smoking marijuana with my high school boyfriend. Moving to California when it becomes clear that the promises we made about being together forever were shortsighted and characteristically juvenile.
Maybe somewhere around my late twenties, I write impressive paragraphs on births where all the nouns exude a sense of joy and the sweet scent of breastmilk. Cloth diapers fill a bucket in the bathroom, and toys are scattered about the dining room floor. I read stories at bedtime, and decipher sounds from tongues that struggle with two-syllable words.
I encounter a longer chapter on “Battles Fought.” Many are won, but there are losses and devastating defeats. The pages are worn and many are torn. A chapter on harsh words that I’ve spoken, words I will want to retract. The look on faces, wounded by verbs that stab like sharp knives, aged from battle-fatigue, from warding off adjectives, shot like bullets out of a semi-automatic. Obviously these chapters are disturbing and difficult to read.
I shudder as I view the title page of the chapter on, “The Secrets I Keep,” and relieved, but concerned, that the chapter is missing, all the pages ripped out.
As I move towards the end, I see the last chapter, “Surrender.” The pages are damp, I suspect, from tears. Now the pace of the sentences move slower because there are less present participles. There are regrets and promises to do better next time; a short paragraph on living truth and creating trust, and a vow to understand this thing called “unconditional love.” And the book ends here.
There must be a sequel because of all that is missing. No mention of gardens, hydrangeas or herbs. No mention of the sun, the moon, delicate floating clouds or intoxicating skies. No mention of mescal and chocolate martinis. Nothing on silk quilts, cotton thread, and the sound of scoring glass. Not one sentence on grandchildren or those inspiring conversations with grown up children. Not one word hints at the peace I’ve sought. Nothing on dreams, the resurrection or revelations; no mention of unfulfilled desires or healing ancient wounds. Nothing on solitude and isolation. Nothing on the inspiration that arises from conversations with the artist and exchanging pages from the books of our lives. 1/06/2019