Updated: Oct 30, 2021
When my niece asked me to hang on to a fossilized sea anemone she'd found in Lyme Regis, UK, I didn't think it strange—it would be fine on the varanda next to the Lake Monroe fossil rock found decades ago just south of Indiana University. Plus, I understood you can't always take it with you, especially on international flights. I'd been lugging the latter rock around for years, out to California and back, finally shipping it across the Atlantic with my remaining material objects, to its current spot on the balcony. It originally came into my possession in the 1980s during a weekend jaunt to Brown County National Park near Bloomington, Indiana.
If there's a gene for hoarding fossil rocks indefinitely, my niece got it from me. She visited me after working her away across the ocean to Europe on the tall ship Pelican of London.
My niece also inherited my Hungarian-made violin, the Dahl Stradivarius. It's not really one, of course—only cost a few hundred dollars when my mother bought it from Minneapolis violin-maker Mathias Dahl.
I was 14 in 1969 when we went downtown to the Dahl violin workshop. Even though my mother bought a far more expensive violin for herself at the same time, I always preferred the sound of my Dahl Stradivarius. It had been played by a Minneapolis Symphony violinist since 1945, a quarter century of exhilarating Allegros and somber Largos and beguiling Prestos mellowing out its tones and timbres.
I was 20 in 1975 when I held it in my left hand in a practice room in Boston and brought my bow arm over the chair in front of me and broke it in half. The bow, I mean. I carefully laid the violin back in its green velvet case-bed, and soon left the Conservatory for good. I knew the violin would be next, and did not deserve that fate.
The cellist half of my Kodaly Duo rehearsals was livid, never forgave me for leaving him to find a replacement violinist for his senior recital. Nobody here can play it like you!
True…but I couldn't risk the turmoil boiling over in me from the violent attack the year before.
I'd survived the emergency surgery and the nearly successful attempt to off myself, but was still not okay. Committed now to living out "the duration," as I called my natural life, I chugged down daily tomato juice with Brewer's Yeast, cut back on cigarettes, even worked liver and onions into my recovery plan, finishing the previous year by playing the Kabalevsky for spring juries—none of this was enough, though.
PTSD is a sneaky bastard, slithering through neural channels when you least expect it, stopping you in your tracks without warning. After running out of vices to deaden the outbursts, a legal cocktail of prescriptions made it into my nightly routine, somewhere between the toothpaste and the flossing. That kept me going for years, with a few disability leaves and hospitalizations here and there.
Somewhere a light stayed lit, some killer will to live, however dim and flickering.
When the Leiria flashbacks showed up around the start of the pandemic last year, the dating of the original violence shifted back in time. The vice-like hold, the hand over my mouth—nope, not just in Boston but also much further back, to a childhood this side of the sea. And not even verbalized memories this time, not in any language, just...sensations. The kind of muscle-memory you don't want in your sinew, complicating an already distrustful process of immunity cells attacking each other.
I know, I know—it's not up to me to manually prevent MS progression, like checking yoga or laundry off my list. Nonetheless, I feel personally responsible for the daily auto-immune reckoning. I imagine more cells get the shaft on bad days, when I can't remember what I'm doing here or how to more gracefully...uh, cope.
Chin up, old girl.
I used to say that idealism radioactively decays into cynicism. If so, my half-life ratio would be mostly bitter sarcasm by now...so maybe instead I've managed to carry around some small fossilized version of hope within the hard core stuff of despair...some tiny crystallized ideal of life and joy got imprinted into my strange history such that all the layers of sediment and stress failed to fully galvanize into a hardened old cynic. So far.
As Nietzsche said in Twilight of the Idols, "What does not kill me makes me stronger." Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.
24 JUNE 2021