Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Deep

One of the favourite books of my childhood was Heidi, the story of a little girl who lived on the Alm (Alp) with her grandfather (first published in 1880, more here). I haven't read the book since I was 12 or 13 and didn't remember much more then that. Last weekend, in a fit of nostalgia, I got it from Audible and prepared to settle in for a warm and fuzzy trip down memory lane. Before I continue, a quick caveat. I'm about to discuss major plot points and am assuming everybody has read the book (which may be wrong - North America has an altogether different canon of beloved childhood books than Europe does).

As I started reading the book, I noticed that I was very weepy. I'm not a crier, but I do get verklempt very easily. Am a complete and utter mushpot. Anything that remotely pushes that button in movies/TV and real life - dying animals, reunions of lost lovers, special moment spent with a sibling, birth, weddings and all other poignant moments has me tearing up and fumbling for a Kleenex. It's ridiculous, but there is. In the beginning, the action in the book doesn't come very close to that infamous button and I wasn't sure why I was crying, but I put it down to hormones or fatigue and read on, rediscovering the book all over again, only vaguely remembering what happened next just as I was getting to it.

In the beginning of the book, when Heidi moves in with her grandfather, I realized where my obsession with a cabin in the woods comes from. I remember wanting to be Heidi when I was a child - sleeping in the hayloft in a bed made of sweet smelling hay by a window to the stars, lulled to sleep by the wind singing in the pines. It sounded glorious. I still want to be her.

Then Heidi gets taken to Frankfurt by her aunt, to be companion to Clara, who’s an "invalid" slightly older than she and the weepy got a little stronger. I started to have memories of the rehab hospital in which I spent much of my time between the ages of 11-14. It was a very nasty place. Heidi is so homesick that she literally gets ill and I remembered knowing exactly how she felt, being so homesick myself that I cried for weeks, couldn't sleep and didn't eat. Us older girls were "cared for" by a nurse much like Miss Rottenmeier, as capriciously mean and unsuited to dealing with children as the Frankfurt housekeeper. So I thought maybe it was those memories poking at my tear ducts. Although I had initially identified with Heidi, when she was in Frankfurt, it became more and more clear that Clara was me. She's sick, always tired and in pain, can't walk because it hurts, only eats because she has to - that was me as a child.

In the third part of the story, Heidi is returned to her grandfather in the Alps and as I was reading, I was holding back tears. When it's decided that Clara should go visit Heidi and her grandfather, things started to dawn on me. From deep within the recesses of my mind came the memory of what happens when she gets there. After a couple of weeks in the clear mountain air, drinking fresh goat’s milk every day, she's able to walk again after a lifetime in a wheelchair.

I don't dream of walking anymore. I haven’t walked for 30 years and it no longer bothers me. When I wish for something that isn't what I am now, I think of the things that would be granted me if my legs were functioning like "normal", not the act of walking itself. I want to ride a horse, sit on the grass, dance, scuba dive and go to the bathroom by myself. I want to climb a mountain (except not like this Spanish trail, because I still feel faint 24 hours after watching it) and sail a tall ship. I want to walk on the beach, down where the waves break and foam around your feet. I want to run and ride a bike and go to circus school and see the inside of a pyramid. But the thing is, it's okay if I don't. I am not sad about it anymore - it is not something I long for (well, maybe with the exception of the ocean thing. I know – big surprise). It's been like this for 30 years, it's normal to me.

Then why the crying? Why the overwhelming sadness and heartbreak that has been following me around as I'm reading this favourite story of my childhood? I think it's leftover memories, the heartbreak of a girl who wished and wished and wished that the pain and the limits would disappear, that a cure would be as easy as living on the mountain and drinking goat’s milk for three weeks.

I feel so sad for this girl whose memories are still within me. I can feel how desperate and afraid she was, how her life and the illness was incomprehensible. I can feel her memories of just recently riding her bike to school with her friend AB, playing hopscotch in recess, running up the stairs at her grandparents' to ring the bell, bursting into her grandmother's arms. How she was always in motion. And how now, a few years later, stuck in a hospital, every day in pain, every day it getting worse, the crying so close to the surface and how every day, she held it back, because it wouldn't change anything. And because if she let go, started to cry, she might never stop. There are so many tears here.

I used to joke that I didn't have baggage, I had steamer trunks. After Enbrel gave me my life back, I decided to clean my inner house and get rid of them and have slowly been going through each trunk, finding the things I'd put away and repressed deep down. I’ve looked them in the face, processed them and let them go, becoming ever lighter. I didn't know I had more trunks yet, hidden so deep within that they seemed to not be there at all, trunks filled with the despair of a little girl.

I will be lighter at the end, but right now, I'm not enjoying looking in this particular trunk.

2 comments:

Vanessa Collins said...

Much love to you, Lene. That is all. Just much love and a big, soft hug.

Marcy Dyer said...

Sometimes those deep hurts surface at the oddest times. Good for you that you're processing your baggage and emptying those trunks. I think the tears are part of the process. May God bless you!