As I wrote a few days ago, in anticipation of the demise of Open Salon, I installed a Firefox addin, DownThemAll, which promised to "batch download" most of my blog posts at the click of a mouse.
It did. And it also sucked all of them down from Open Salon permanently. I will be reposting them as they were that day, comments and all. What really hurts is that the stats they had are now wiped out. Of the series of posts about my illness, this one had the least number of views, but the number was pretty high, even so.
You may comment again, of course, 'way down at the bottom. But...the damage is done. I just want them all back up here for "history's sake. Enjoy!
The lyrics I clung to for solace...
My “unintentional vision quest” began with a young doctor who misdiagnosed one of the most dangerous allergic reactions a body can have as a “common cold.” And I’ve talked about the the anger, terror, pain and the The Almighty Itch that followed.
Now it’s time to talk about the Big Why.
And…to be honest, I haven’t even figured it all out yet. But I really, really want to share some of what I’m ruminating about with those of you who have taken this journey with me thus far.
I’m still experiencing it, so all the pieces haven’t fallen into place yet. But I'm sifting through them, trying to see that "bigger picture."
So take your time with this last installment—listen to the songs, too. You must listen to the songs, especially Elton singing WITH The Sounds of Blackness down there at the bottom.
The whole thing is a Song. We are all Songs. Life…well…you get the picture. I’m still a little loopy.
But I think I’m on to something here…
I’m gonna go tribal on you again. But this time, I’m going to go ‘way, way back to my earlest African ancestors—we even know the tribe now. DNA, the works.
But this is deeper than place and tribe names. It’s so deep it’s universal, in that Joseph Campbell sense. All tribes know this. All humankind experiences this.
So here’s where this all really began—or was “ordained.” Yes, The Itch and the ordeal. There is always a story behind the story. This is mine.
Many years ago a Yoruba priest drove non-stop from Oakland, California to do a ceremony for me that is usually reserved for devotes of “Ifa,” the Yoruba belief system that is the basis of Vodun, Santeria and more.
He did this because I had told his wife, Luisah Teish, author of the amazing Jambalaya and an exotic spiritual leader and priestess in the Yoruba/Ifa tradition, about a dream I’d had.
It was a very vivid dream that I felt physically somehow, as it unfolded. I was standing by a big window, watching an advancing “army” of stately, strikingly beautiful brown and red people walking toward me.
Behind them, as if part of the procession, was a huge, swirling tornado of which they were not the least bit afraid. In fact, they seemed proud to be accompanied by it.
I stood watching like a mystified child, looking from face to face, trying to figure out who these magnificent creatures might be. And just as they got right up to the window, I flung it open wide, and the beautiful creatures and their whirlwind companion SPUN into my third eye.
At that moment I awoke with a start, reeling and feeling incredibly but pleasantly drunk. I remember that I braced myself with my arms until the spinning subsided. I also remember that I giggled.
When Luisah read an email from me about this, she insisted her husband call and make an appointment to see me at once. He felt that I had been initiated by a particular goddess spontaneously—something that almost never happens.
The whirlwind was a representation of the warrior goddess Oya, the spirit of change and all types of transformations both spiritual and practical. And though he could not be absolutely sure it was She who had "claimed" me, someone wanted me badly enough to take over my body and make me “tipsy,” something that even some of the most devout never experience.
And because She had done this and brought my ancestors along to witness and approve of it, there were now things I would have to know, do and have. Even if they were totally mystifying to me even after we met, I had to have them. Oya would know how to help me use them when necessary. And Oya would use me, when necessary--in ways I would definitely recognize, when the them came. And she would not take "No" for an answer.
I didn’t believe a word of it. Intellectually. But the part of me that comes from that ancient world, that knows things my intellect cannot make logical, heard and remembered every word, every chant, every gesture he made that day.
And when I was struck down recently…that same part of me knew that my “dis-ease” was Oya, goddess of hurricanes and tornadoes and alll "transformations," come to tear me down.
It was time for me to “change.” Not in some chicken shit, "nicey nicey" way. It had to be ugly--the "reboot" to end them all. Maybe even literally, if I didn't get the "message."
I was most sure of this on one particularly awful night not too long ago when I thought I really might go mad--I wanted to go mad and just get it over with.
Women who have experienced “natural” childbirth will understand this next part very, very well. Midwives, obstetricians, everyone who has helped to birth babies will, too—they listen for this.
It’s the moment when the mother-to-be, no matter how well-prepared or self-assured…finally forgets how to breathe, cusses out anyone who tries to remind her and insists that she can take no more. NO more.
Seconds later she’s holding a gooey little E.T. of a thing in her arms, grinning from ear to ear and those last desperate moments are totally forgotten. There’s new life to be celebrated and protected.
I was headed for that very same experience, the night the "goo" I wrote about last time failed to do its magic. In fact, it seemed to be making The Itch infinitely worse.
My skin was crawling. Tingling. Random patterns of itchier itch than I’d ever experienced.
I felt betrayed and terrified.
But something deep down, something primal and precious, whispered, “Mama, this is it! You've been here before! Grit your teeth…and let it happen…”
I searched Comcast and Netflix for movies I loved. Movies with messages, movies that would make me laugh, movies that would make me cry—I instinctively remembered the ones that had raised me up or been of comfort in years past, and I sought them out.
I found whole seasons of my favorite TV shows on their network sites. I found more music to listen to when I could not watch any longer.
The Itch jumped from chest to legs. Back to forearms. Even my scalp itched—and I found it flaking, too, now for the first time. A full body assault, relentless and insistent.
But the little voice said, “Ride it out, Sistah Girl. Ride it out, and you’re home free.”
I curled up in a shivering ball and faced the waves of Itch, watching my movies, crooning my music, and spinning in delirious circles…
By dawn, I couldn’t wait any longer. I shucked down to shower off the goo that had forsaken me…and skin flakes rained from my entire torso. Bigger, looser ones than I’d ever seen before.
The goo had actually started The Big Shed. I scratched a little to help it along. And then I hopped into the warm spray.
And I emerged from that shower a velvet-skinned goddess. My face was a smooth, uniform café au lait brown and was actually a bit firmer than it had been before.
The rest of my body, also smoother, softer--the parts of my back that burned as if fire-singed, will require more intensive care. But running my fingers over the new skin was a delicious thrill—the “baby’s bottom” silkiness made me giggle. At 59, I had the skin of a newborn!
My "Metamorphosis" had begun.
Oh, it aint over, folks. There WAS more shedding to come. The allopurinol hides in the tissues, in layers you cannot see, and all of the stages of the syndrome begin again, over and over again, until it is all gone.
So I would again experience the little flu, the rash and the shedding in rapid, frustratingly familiar stages. But each time is a bit less intense. And none of that matters.
It’s the Metamorphosis thing that really matters. Each shedding of skin is another step toward breaking free of all that I was. And the New Me that will be.
But I’ve learned something about that, too.
See, I may not know, for a very long time, what the Big Why is. Or what I'm supposed to do next. I do know that it’s not my business to ask or worry about that.
That’s the first and possibly most important big attitude adjustment I’ve made. I don’t have to know everything, or go rushing off to figure out everything or to make sense of it all.
I’ve seen that I am not in charge. I’ve seen how easily I can be stripped of my “power” if I’m not respectful of it.
And I had not been. I’ve said before that I had allowed myself to languish—I had, in fact, punished myself for lo too many years.
During my time as an assistant principal, I remember how puzzled my students would be looking at the woman behind the desk…and then the woman in the pictures behind her, standing proudly next to rock stars and movie stars. Grinning and flashing the peace sign in front of European castles and…places they all hoped to go someday, with my Angela Davis ‘fro.
“Is that really you?” they would ask.
They knew it was me. They just couldn’t put see that me…in the me they saw every day. The woman on the wall was someone they might’ve liked to meet. The woman behind the desk…was someone they tried to avoid meeting.
They also said it because they knew how much it hurt me to hear it. I was a pretty cool chick, still, to most of them—some of them could still see vestiges of that wild woman in my eyes sometimes. The crazy kids, the kids I would’ve been like…sometimes they felt it. And would sit with me during lunches, as if we were secret co-conspirators.
But I was still an assistant principal. A campus “cop.” I had sold out. I was a cautionary tale.
Oh, but I had a baby girl to raise and her welfare had long ago become my sole concern. So I did what I had to do, or what I thought I had to do, for so long that I forgot to ask myself what I wanted to do. What I needed to do. For me.
I was even was able to retire just as the big administrative layoffs began in our district--every single one of us got a pink slip that year. But I retired early, hoping that our younger assistant principal with small children would be able to keep his job when the dust settled.
And suddenly...I had lots and lots of time.
And I didn’t know what to do with it.
Oh, I did a lot of things I’d said I would do when I had time. None of it touched me.
I felt that I had done all I was going to do. And that my life had all come to a comfortable but uninspiring stalemate. I might, this little bit of me whispered, actually be relieved when it was over with.
It was never a conscious yearning for death. Just a resignation that I had not found the joy I should have and that sitting around stewing in bitterness and disappointment while waiting for it to be over, wishing it were over, as my mother had, did not appeal.
Well, honey let me tell you that Spirit listens to those little “voices.” And The Itch was my “out.”
“You wanna leave, Miss Thing? Here’s your chance.”
Oh, yes. I knew what this was. From jump.
I also knew that the incompetence and insensitivity I faced when I was misdiagnosed and ignored was Spirit upping the ante a little bit to see if I would fight despite my disappointment. But I was also being asked to disengage from my anger, from all of my emotions enough to intuit the messages that really mattered.
Several times during the worst of it, doctors and nurses and clerks at hospitals and doctor’s offices have said, “God, you have the most amazing attitude---I couldn't do it.”
I wasn’t “doing” anything. I was listening and watching…and learning things that had nothing to do with them. And I guess that’s what they felt.
I just knew that the real healing would not come from doctors. So it really didn’t matter if anyone knew what was wrong with me or not. Spirit knew what was wrong with me.
Spirit had called my bluff.
I saw and raised. And I think I’m going to win this one.
And when I am finally ready, I’ll get my orders. Big assignments, little assignments. Crazy stuff, magical stuff. I am a daughter of Oya. And she will tell me what needs doing.
And I will have what it takes to get the job done, because of the “cold” I had. In fact, I actually have to thank Doogie for misdiagnosing me. Oya sent him. He was Oya.
Making me “tipsy” again. So that I could hear The Message.
What was it? Oh, my dears, you’ve heard it a gazillion times.
Remember that last scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when the entire town rushes to George’s house to prove, in person, what he has learned from his time in exile with his guardian angel?
Until he nearly lost all…he could not understand how “rich” he had always been.
But George got only the one angel, Clarence, who got his wings for helping George sort things out.
I…have dozens. People I’ve known for ages, people I don’t know save through the Internet…legions of them began showing up. Out of the blue. Some after decades.
And I got my wings for recognizing and accepting their love—that was a lesson, too. That I was worthy of it, and that many had been waiting for me to see it for a very long time.
I have told you about my knights in shining armor and the famous among them. But there were everyday angels, too.
In the early days, when I was far, far away in the Fever World…women friends came to squeeze a toe and say, “I’m here, girlfriend!” And then left me to sleep while they helped my daughter get the house in order.
Others brought me homemade chicken noodle soup—with some lovin’ on the side.
Some called just to speak to me even if I couldn’t speak to them. One wrote and told me to put the notes in bed next to me and pretend they were there with their arms around me.
Some cried because they couldn’t stand what was happening to me, or what it would mean to them if I didn’t make it back from wherever I was. And told me so out loud so I’d fight harder.
Some stopped writing to me for a while…and then began to send me odd little emails that they had not written, but with messages that told me they were also afraid they might lose me. I knew that was their way of loving me, too.
Others got mad at what was happening to me…and got busy trying to fix it or find someone who could.
A long lost friend from elementary school, reading of my plight on Facebook, found my phone number somehow, and called to tell me to drink lots of cherry juice. I could not speak to her, but I thanked her on Facebook…and was mightily moved. We were tiny tots the last time we’d “spoken.” I could see her pretty face as it had been back then…and it made me cry.
Likewise, Gary Houston, a long lost friend from the Sun Times "coincidentally" found me on Open Salon…read the last few entries…and hasn’t stopped writing and sending me little things to make me smile, since--a big box o' chocolate, most recently. Dude knows how to make a girl feel REAL good...
And so an orphaned woman with only tenuous ties to what is left of her blood kin has begun to watch the Universe knit her a new family, friend by friend. My body was being healed while the long imagined rift between me and the rest of the world was also being repaired.
Happy birthday to me.
My endless love, to all of you.
Elton...sing me home, man--THIS is why black folks tried to "claim" him back in the Bennie and the Jets days. I found this by "accident" one day, and found myself singing along for courage on many a dark day.
And "Hekua Oya!"