Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Exile

August. Not even 11pm and it's dark out. The rain has been going all day, sometimes pelting the metal roof like a hail of metal BB's, sometimes soft and misting. The cloud cover is low and muted, gull-wing gray.

I am hibernating. That's what you're supposed to do at your parents' house, go to your room and close the door, wrap up in the goosedown comforter. Mom comes every now and then, taps softly, and when I'm too deep to hear, she peeks in to see I'm alright. Sometimes I wake and she comes and sits on my bedside. She's so light she barely dents the mattress. She puts her hand to my forehead, but there's no fever. There's nothing wrong with me externally. Just, sad. No reason. It's fall, and raining, and soon I will have to leave home and travel to a place that is also home, but not-home.

I don't want to go. I never want to. It's been this way since I was a kid. I dig up old journals from the shed out back, a treasure trove of scrawlings and pencil drawings starting from when I was seven years old. I open any one of them and find a kid on a journey, either coming or going. In one: "I don't think I want to go to daddy's this year. It's so far and I don't think they want me and I don't want to leave Alaska." And then that self-same kid, not even two months later: "I don't want to leave daddy. He might be lonely for me, and I'll miss the sunshine and my sisters and Dee" (the dog, whom I'd known all my life, got a name; the baby sisters didn't, not till later). The pencil art depicts my imaginary friends: dragons and unicorns and flying horses and packs of wolves. They accompanied me everywhere and did all sorts of naughty things. They were all called Nameless, one dragon in particular wreaking havoc on every adult that incurred my wrath. Funny, after all these years he's been popping up again. Just a glimpse here and there in my peripheral vision: a red wraith, a jet of fire, a shadow on the mountains.

I dig up my mother's journals too, and she lets me read them: the years just after my birth, the hardest of her life. I grieve with her twenty-something self. How resilient she was, how determined to continue on with things! Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is take a tennis lesson in the face of looming depression, rage, failure. I grew up not knowing how brave she was, and so when hardship came along for me in the form of clinical depression and subsequent mania, I kept up the charade as long as I could. But unlike her, I leapt, one Alaskan winter, off the edge of sanity. And that's what made the final decision on living an uninterrupted life here in the north. Nameless came to accompany me as I made my exodus down south. The doctors tried to medicate him away, but it never quite worked. After a while I stopped talking about him, and that seemed to make them feel better. A fire-breathing dragon who came from a cave in an Alaskan mountain range is probably not going to make a good city slicker. He's more polite these days but I wouldn't trust him not to rear his head in a bar fight.

Still, leaving is hard. I slept all day today and woke up in time for dinner. I was social enough to get by for a few hours and now I am back in bed. I dread going back to regular life which has become a chore. Back and forth to work in crushing traffic and smothering heat. Then back out to get groceries. Clean the house. Do the laundry. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. I work hard to rise above it and squeeze out creative juices; in order to write memoir one must swim deeply into the past. I am asked, why bother with the past? It's the past for a reason; leave it there.

But like the salmon that are disappearing from the waters of my home state, I like swimming upstream. You cannot write honestly about anything without living it. Life does not come without pain. So in order to write, I have to hurt. That's just how I do it. Some days I stay in bed all day. Some days I walk around in the mountains. If I'm not in Alaska, then some days I just have to sit on the couch, close my eyes, put on some good music and slip away in my mind's eye. Maybe Nameless shows up or maybe not. Maybe my mother calls and I can hear her making tea, or talking to her horse in the background, and we make plans for my next trip "home." Maybe, now and then, I hibernate in my new bed, five thousand miles south, and the dog comes to lay his head on the edge of it and put his nose next to mine. He's so light he doesn't dent the mattress, but I know he's there. And there's nothing wrong with me. It's just sadness. It will pass.








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