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One cold winter morning, I stopped pretending to be a princess in a vast primorial jungle with an invisible black panther as a guardian and friend. I woke up especially early that day, and rifled through my dresser drawers, looking for my special blue shorts, my elephant riding shorts. I wanted to play first thing the way people like to pray and meditate and do yoga first thing, the way writers like to write first thing–to be in that specialquiet place where there is still a connection to a deeper consciousness—the emerging-from- dream mind is very close to the body. On first waking, it s easy to feel like a panther creeping through a forest–sensing and smelling and feeling the world knowing it is part of it. Think of how it is when you wake up early in the summer and go aside in the garden—there can be a special intimacy to the experience, as if the world is speaking to us. This can happen even in the city. I often had that experience walking early in Brooklyn–the buildings can speak to you.
But there were no blue shorts in the drawer. I padded through the empty, immaculate living room and down the stairs to the laundry room. The air had the swimming pool smell of bleach. My mother stood near the chugging washing machine. Have you seen my shorts, I asked. She turned, a funny expectant look on her face. “I’m sorry honey they must’ve gotten put in with the other colors somehow.”
My mother looked past me towards a small clothes line suspended at the end of the narrow laundry room. I turned and saw them, my special blue elephant riding shorts bleached to hideous mottled purple, like tie-dye only ugly, somehow violent. It was like looking at a crime scene. I looked back at my mother, who was covering her mouth as if she was trying hard not to laugh. Years later, I would learn that the Mother Goddess has many faces, including Kali, the Dark Mother. I beheld Kali. “Honey I’m so sorry,” said Kali, trying hard not to laugh.” It was an accident.” It was no accident.
Last time, I quoted Virginia Woolf, writing about those “sudden violent shocks” that open up a moment of being—a moment when our usually woolly state of “non-being” clears away and something happens that has a mysterious quality we remember all our lives. I remember standing in the laundry room shivering, suddenly aware that my mother had more faces, more aspects, than I knew, including dark, cruel aspects. But this was not what was so mysterious and memorable about the event.
Suddenly, I realized that the way I felt inside wasn’t necessarily the way I was seen outside. Someone once told me that a feeling of acute embarrassment or shame can be akin to a feeling of being–I kind of hillbilly kin. My mother knelt down and enfolded me in a hug but what was done was done. I have long been a mother myself, and I fully understand what it is like to reach the end of your rope on such a matter–I’ve had friends whose children would only wear a certain shirt or (in one case) insist on wearing a Disney princess costume until it became a filthy rag.
What made the incident memorable was something I couldn’t think at the time, only sense. I had seen dark side of my mother and lived. I had stood up to it. And I had also seen something about myself and lived. It was as if I had seen myself from the outside as well as the inside, and this kindled a kind of questioning, not a thinking question but a feeling question. I wondered who I was.
There was me and there was the big world, there was me dreaming and there someone else who was really seeing. It would be many years before I realized that seeing (really seeing, not just looking) can bring a new power, a new energy. And it was as if one included the other, the seeing included the dreaming. But who was the seer?
Striker didn’t disappear. He would reappear as needed—but henceforth he would be my guardian and helper on numerous international spy missions. Henceforth we would be suave and worldly, travel on fake passports, be James Bond-like. To paraphrase James Bond, I was shaken by the bleacing but not stirred. Later that same day, I glimpsed something stirring.
The afternoon of the bleaching, my twin brother and I were taken skiing. This outing probably had something to do with my mother feeling bad about what had happened. And I remember another moment of being, a vastly more gentle shock. I remember standing at the top of a hill resting on my ski poles. The air had the metallic smell of coming snow. The sky was heavy with bruise colored clouds which gave the landscape out below the hushed intimacy of the Cathedral. I remember feeling present—not in the excruciating way I had been in the laundry room but still dethroned from the center of my universe. Just for a moment I knew I was a tiny part of a much larger world, that the mystery that surrounded me was vast and mysterious. I had the sensation of waking up from a dream to find myself in the midst of something amazing—a bigger dream. I wished to know more
Moments later, this delicate opening and wishing closed like an eye. We humans can only take so much reality. I started wondering what it must of felt like to be a person in the Ice Age, about what it would be like to be lost and alone in such a place, and about what we’re having for dinner. I hoped it was spaghetti, not fish.