The Devil You Know
I wonder if anyone would like to rent my life for a few months while I disappear. They could have it and all its amenities. They could borrow my heart and its failures and weaknesses. They could take a slow roll off the couch with my lover, feel that weak heart crumble. They could sit here under my cottonwood tree, sip tepid beer and pretend they were me. It would really be the same thing. A shell of me, with a pale heart beating beneath. Meanwhile the real me, the shadow me, would be off in Australia or Madagascar with no weighty heart to trouble me, living light, breathing all that free air rushing between my skeletal ribs, doing god knows what. Not worrying though. Never crying. I wouldn't be loving or lying or sad about anything. Just existing. Just being. And collecting rent from that sad sack who agreed to the deal.
I wrote the sad, defeated-sounding words above many months ago, during a winter that stretched out long and troublesome and cave-dark, when I dreamed endlessly of getting free. I did get free a few times but always returned to the deep freeze that is Alaska--seven months of numbing cold--and the entanglements of a love I couldn't let go of, no matter how many markers pointed to its circular tread in the wrong direction. I couldn't get it to come right, and I couldn't raise my thoughts above the darkness and cold. It was like drowning in sight of shore: there was help in sight, but I didn't know how to reach it. The numbness made me crazy, eventually; or was it genetics? Or the darkness? Or a deadly combination of all three? Psychiatry in all its wisdom believes I was crazy all along, but I have learned that doctors' opinions differ as widely as the doctors do.
Whatever the reason and whatever the wisdom or insanity behind it, I have decided to disappear before the dark hits again. I am even now engineering the disappearing act. With boxes and packing tape and Sharpies as my magician's tools, and sweeping the dust from corners that haven't seen daylight for over two years, I am growing smaller and smaller. My home is to become someone else's for the time being. My possessions are going to others because I no longer need them: I am discovering once again how little one needs when one becomes, essentially, a citizen of the world. Someone else will, indeed, sit under my cottonwood tree and sip whatever they desire; someone else will hold their lover on what will soon be their couch, their bed, in what used to be my room.
But they will not be me. No, I will be taking myself, and my faulty yet sturdy flesh-and-blood heart (not, after all, a pale shadow) along on the journey. We will not be going to Australia or Madagascar, not this time, but to Austin. We will ground ourselves there, find a home in the sun, a place to live and work while winter hurls itself at the North without us. I wonder secretly at times if I am getting too old for these magic tricks, but really, what are the options? Stay here and face certain insanity (or at least constant cold fingers and toes) on my own, or step out into the world again and face whatever waits for me in the sun. There will be others out there who, like me, want to be on the move. Certainly there will be a four-legged friend going along for the ride, and the two of us always manage to draw company (though he does most of the work).
I am afraid to go, that is true; but I'm more afraid to stay. Unlike the old English idiom, I don't believe in sticking with the devil I know. That devil has a poor sense of humor and a penchant for subzero temperatures, and I'm bored with fighting him. Bring on the strange devil, the new devil, the one who'll teach me the two-step and moan me the blues--and I will sing down his house. Or in the words of Ben Harper:
if you're gonna stepstep on inif you're gonna finishyou got to begindon't you fearwhat you don't knowjust let that be
your room to grow.