Saturday, October 19, 2013
The Amazing Grace of a Snake
When a snake moults, it not only sheds the skin over its entire body but also the transparent ocular scale covering its eyes. The once clear, darting brille turns cloudy, and a milky hue emerges as he embarks on this transformation. He is not only born of new body, but new vision. A new way of seeing the world.
It's a lot like divorce.
I remember the exact moment when I shed my skin. We were standing in the kitchen while our three year old daughter played in the other room. The dog was tap dancing across the hardwood floor, from living room to kitchen, from our daughter to us. He filled the spaces, policed the parameters.
For once we were together, his perfect audience. For once our child was distracted, pulling musical instruments off a shelf; blowing on kazoos, banging on bongos, getting lost in the moment.
We'd been miserable for a long time - even the dog knew it was over and expressed it with a frantic tap dance dirge. Tap tap tap tap. Tap tap tap tap.
I was crouching on the pink tile of the kitchen floor, putting a pan below the sink and when I stood up - a rush of blood to the brain and the impatience of promises made it clear. This was the moment. I was going to ask the question, for better or worse.
"Are you going to do whatever it takes?"
I thought there would be a pause, a long dramatic moment like in my mother's soap operas where it's almost uncomfortable and you start zeroing in on the star's facial pores. The music starts to play, and a melancholy cello pulls you to commercial; something exotic like a Caribbean vacation or Pizza Hut.
But it was so fast.
It wasn't a dare or a protest. There was no challenge to meet, no argument to pursue, no commercial break or trip to Antigua. Because I was ready for dukes up. Whatever it takes. My gloves are on. Give it what you got man!
It was a car horn announcing a green light. A short, polite, "go already." We've been sitting here too long.
It was lightning without thunder.
It was helium, escaping a balloon that fell quietly to the floor during the night and in the morning - a wilted piece of rubber with a string remained. The saddest thing ever. Parties over. Go home. Don't be that person who waits til the end, til every last car is out of the drive and the host gives you a nod and a yawn. Wellll, it's been fun, but...
I'd shed my skin. It was over. The person I was didn't exist anymore except in a skeletal casage, like a sausage, a cellophane history that was my life for ten years. Our families coming together, the birth of a child, holidays and heart attacks, biking through the Catalonian mountains, sailing to Catalina, sitting on the bow and searching for blowholes on the horizon with our child, birthdays candles and hikes, sea shells on so many beaches, walking Iowa cornfields, and dunes of the Mojave desert. It was all gone, in a moment, a slough of skin. Shed. For better or worse.
And strangely, I could breathe again as if I'd been underwater expecting the sea to give me air. And the sea said, "Well, what did you expect?"
Most amphibians, birds, even dogs and cats who shed skin, feathers and fur, do not leave an entire replica of their former selves behind. But a snake, leaves a life-size fingerprint, a CSI story of all the twists and turns, scars and deep tales, the slidings through narrow escapes of life in the desert, of digging holes and climbing in, of peeking out to eat, or catch a view of the harvest moon. He is a novelist, a ghost writer, taking no credit for the story left behind.
After my divorce I could relate to this metamorphosis. I was struggling to find a way out of a life I'd dug so hard to get in. I'd shed my skin, and was naked and new at everything. Now what?
Well, there was a beginning and an end, an exact moment to everything.
I remember the exact moment I looked into my daughter's eyes. Fresh out of my body like a wet porpoise on my belly. A smart little alien. Where am I? How did I get here? What's the purpose to it all? Mother, answer me.... all before lips met breast. Her eyes were clear, ready. Not cloudy at all.
I remember the exact moment when she was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. On the phone, holding my crying babe. The doctor was busy, so I begged the nurse to give me the results.
She said, "The doc is supposed to do it, but I'm sure it's negative. Let me get the fax that just came in."
Long hold, very long hold, as my daughter fussed and I felt like not knowing was being set on fire but before I could stop, drop and roll the nurse came back.
"I better have the doctor read this to you honey."
The exact moment when our world fell apart.
I remember the exact moment when we said we would. My grandmother's church, folk music and dancing. Dreamy and dumb, unaware that life had very big teeth.
And in the kitchen putting away a pan, listening to the music of dog paws on hardwood, a kazoo song serenading from the living room, I remember the exact moment when our family fell apart. When I shed the final skin over my eyes.
I once was blind but now I see.
The brille is there to protect, as the snake slides through sand picking up the dust of life that collects and clouds. What was once shiny, after time, becomes brittle, worn, and bald. Like an old man. And finally when he can't see anymore, when he is almost blind from the life he's seen, when he can't go another inch in the life he's lived, he is reborn. Same soul but new eyes. The wisdom without the weight.
And now, I too leave it in the sand as I slip into rocks and crevices, climbing in and then out again, every once in a while catching a glimpse of the harvest moon.