I haven't been this sick for a long time, and when I couldn't quite sleep and couldn't quite rouse myself, the road through the valley of the last year, from early March until the present, was the path on which my thoughts moved. While I can't explain all of the details, the journey has been extraordinary in a way that is largely hidden, largely private.
In January and February, we were so certain that there would be a diagnosis, finally, for Robert, something certain and secure. We had arrived at the right test. We had found the right lab. All the lights were green in front of us. In early March, on a freak snow day for the kids, an email telling me there would be no test became a huge stop sign.
The brakes went on then. Hard. And, as it happens when life is at a certain speed, our habits of thinking, immutable as objects, continued traveling at speed, freed temporarily from reality, until, one by one, they lost velocity and stopped or crashed, as the case may be. And that's really a heap of broken images shored against our ruin.
I spent a lot of time over the next few months, picking things up. Over and over again. Because it took me a long time to realize that there had really been a paradigm shift and that stuff was just going to keep falling off the shelves, no matter how many times I put it back.
The bumper of a car is there to absorb impact. It bends or creases, gives with the incoming shock, and what it doesn't absorb reverberates through the frame, through the passengers, and the energy dissipates or goes somewhere else, unspecified. While I was lying in bed, sick, I started wondering if that's how an emotional shock works. An event comes at you at a certain speed--sometimes you're facing it, sometimes you're looking the other way--and it impacts the soft and hard matter of your body, your self. The way you see things. Such as how would I come to understand how Robert was constituted of his condition, and how the world would come to accommodate him or not. And whether I could stand that. And how I would come to reframe this life, our lives, even if I could.
Other people see the way an event hits you, but they don't see the way the shock reverberates through your frame. Because the impact has to go somewhere. It has to dissipate. And sometimes it takes a long time for that shock to travel through your psyche, animating different parts of your frame, and where it exits may surprise even you. And it may exit in many places over time.
Mostly, I lay there and thought that, since the impact of March, I had never really been sure if I was moving or standing still. Moving under my own power, or moving with some kind of forward momentum over which I had no control. Standing still as in still standing, or merely stopped.
The job of an essayist is to drive the mind of the reader through a variety of material and toward an end of some sort, if not a conclusion.
Let me take you on one of my favorite few miles of road: from Ripton, Vermont on Route 125 into East Middlebury. I've driven this road often, under a lot of different conditions (both environmental and emotional) and in different seasons. The road descends sharply from an open plateau, broad meadows, through a forest and along a creek. As you descend, the creek is on the right and, on the left are steep banks--a mountain wall.
My memories of this road cast it mostly in dark and shadow. This is partly because the forest is quite thick, and partly because I have driven the road at night many times--once at 3 or 4 in the morning after one of the most significant realizations of my life. The road is steeply curved and sharply banked. One moment momentum is drawing the car hard to the right, toward the creek, and then the car is drawn rapidly back toward and then against the mountainside for a short bit. And then again and again. In the dark, headlights catch the sharpest point of each curve, a series of reasonably harrowing hairpin shifts, illuminating whatever natural object could have been your demise, before shifting back toward the road and relative safety.
In the dark, you drive this by watching the white line that marks the edge of the road, not the double yellow in the center. And braking judiciously, but not continuously. It is, after all, fun in its own way.
Let's just say I drove this road at somewhat regular intervals during a period of several years in my life when danger of all kinds seemed inviting rather than frightening. But I always felt a twinge of relief at the moment the road straightens and levels and pours itself into the village at the base of the mountain.
The road, in fact, is an oscillation. Between the poles of what could still happen and what didn't. And it dissipates and the energy fades in a village of frame houses that never quite seem to change--a place I've never actually lived, but a place in which I always imagined I would be happy.