Grace Notes: An unwelcome thing come to stay
Ryan Summerlin April 28, 2012
Bad things happen to all of us – and frequently the happening is sudden. Something in our life suddenly changes, snatches us breathless in the throat for a moment, causes a hollow or ache or pain deep in the gut. And the nature of such a thing is it doesn’t go away quickly; it settles in for a stay and yet still surprises us over and over again when we feel it there – unwelcome and distracting. We yearn for the time before, when the bad thing wasn’t there – softly, stubbornly, insistently – burrowing in all night and staying close all day.
Some call this bad thing anxiety, some call it fear, some call it worry, or fret, or stress. Whatever you name it, the thing demands adjustment. You must allow it to settle, you must learn to live with the weight of it there on your chest, in your throat, your lungs, your head and heart.
It’s like going to bed with a tarantula on your chest, on the left specifically; you feel its weight below your upper ribs, over your heart. It’s as large as a dinner plate, heavy like a solid beanbag; two or three of its thick soft legs extend slightly up your neck, past the supra-sternal notch, toward the sensitive spot under your chin.
If you remain still, it doesn’t move much; sometimes the tip of a leg taps an inch to one side or the other. You must stay on your back and breathe carefully – sudden movements are ill advised. And, it doesn’t like to talk or to hear you speak. You feel you must be silent, watchful and remind yourself not to hold your breath.
Most of us, even if we’re not particularly afraid of spiders, give them a fairly wide berth out of respect. We certainly don’t want one on our chest, heavy and threatening to move at any moment. Most of us don’t like sudden, fuzzy drags across our skin – they tend to cause zings and pangs of fear. So, what to do with this particular, giant, arachnid that can’t be shaken, that isn’t going anywhere, that’s comfortable and holding on for the ride?
You go about your hour to hours. You sleep less soundly and certainly more gingerly and then wake carefully and go about your day. You let dogs out, or the cat. You stay up on the news. You grocery shop at the store where the mama goose charges should you use the door near her nest, and you try harder to avoid this sudden small terror, as you’re already carrying a spider on your chest. Once in the store, sometimes, you stand in the aisle and forget where you are, what you’re looking for, what you need. Then the spider moves again and you forget everything you ever knew, until you remember to reel yourself back in.
Most people don’t tend to notice the tarantula unless yor sigh very deeply or stare too long at a blank computer screen, or a wall, or the red light turned to green. Sometimes they honk at you. Sometimes they say “What’s wrong? Snap out of it. Get a move on.” They don’t know what you’re carrying.
We will all have our spiders, our bad things, our “I do not want this – but here it is anyway.”
I knew a woman who lost her job.
I knew a man who went blind.
I knew a mother whose child struggled mightily.
I knew a father who couldn’t find his daughter.
I know people who are confused, or frightened or tired, or very angry.
I know people who shouldn’t have to go through what they are, indeed, going through.
Even though it’s unimaginable at first, the spider will become easier to live with. You will become adept at balancing this new, odd, weight, even though you don’t want it, even though you wish you could scare it far away.
Perhaps we can all remember to move gingerly around each other: We can’t know what another is carrying, we can’t always see it sitting there like a Halloween decoration on their chest. Go easy with one another. Life is a constant adjustment to new weights, a constant adjustment of balance and realignment of strengths – you will find new ones, ones you didn’t even know you had. They will get you through.
Natalie Costanza-Chavez is a poet who writes a newspaper column. You can read more of her work at www.gracenotes
column.org. Her email address is grace-notes@