Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chapter Five: "Switch" -- To Be or Not to Be, A Sofa Story

To read the novel Switch!! in its entirety, go to:

By Claudia Ricci

I sit here on an orange, gold and white striped sofa in a coffee shop called Dottie’s, writing down the slop that my shrink thinks I’ve got to write down in order to heal.

“Try it, Gina. Just get it all out there, and put it down on paper,” she advised. She being the woman I will call Elizabeth. "There's research that shows that if you write it out, what's troubling you, and the emotions, then your health may improve.”

My eyes narrow. “But will I feel better?” I whisper. “Less depressed? Less...jumpy?”

She lifts her shoulders slightly, and then lets them drop. “I can’t promise that,” she says, “but I suspect you will find that releasing your feelings will end up making you more calm.”

That’s what I like about Elizabeth. She doesn’t lie, or flinch, or stretch or avoid or even try to skirt the truth.

That’s why I liked her that first day I met her. The day I came to her some weeks ago when I was so depressed that I was contemplating swallowing a whole bottle of Ativan. Elizabeth listened very patiently that day, while taking a few notes on a legal pad. Finally, she looked up. Her face was as calm as the sea on a quiet day.

“Well, Gina,” she began, and here she gently tapped her pencil eraser against the legal pad. “You can do that, swallow all those pills. But you can also realize that you have other choices.”

That was a good thing to say. That was an important thing to hear.

That was the day I stopped thinking about swallowing the Ativan.

And somehow, I felt a kind of switch go on. I’m still not sure exactly how or why. Just like, I’m not exactly sure how or why I jump back in time.

So here I am at Dottie's on the orange, gold and white striped couch. It is a Tuesday afternoon in March of 2008 and I have come here to do exactly what Elizabeth suggested. I take out my pad and pen and about 4:30, I begin to write. I write and I write and I write about what’s bothering me. And I write some more. And when I look up and glance out the window I notice, of all things, my dentist crossing the street right in front of me. How odd, to see my dentist. He actually smiles and waves.

I wave back to him and then I return to the writing and this thought occurs to me: I might never stop writing. And that makes me feel like I might start crying. And that makes me scared that perhaps if I do start crying, I might never stop.

Then I begin to wonder this: maybe I am just not right in the head. Maybe I am, as I suggested in my phone call to Sandra in California, just plain insane. Maybe no amount of writing will help me deal with the troubling events of the last year or so. I wonder how it can possibly be helping me to sit here and write about something that is causing me so much pain. How can it be helping me to write down things that leave me feeling like I have live wires of electricity surging hot and crackling through my veins?

Suddenly, coming over the sound system in the coffee shop I hear an old Beatles’ tune: “Let it be, let it be, whisper words of wisdom, let it be...”

And suddenly I am writing, “Oh Dear God, that’s what I need to do, LET IT BE. LET IT
Be. Let it be GONE. Let it GO. All of it.” And then I practically call out in the coffee shop. “But I can’t!!!! I can’t let it go. All of it is driving me crazy. All I want to know is why did he have to hurt me so badly? Why did he have to betray me? And why did it –- the suffering, the sadness -- have to go on for such a long time? Why is it still going on?”

And one more thing, while I’m yelling, I ask no one in particular: “When will it all just fade away?”

That’s when the song switches, I SWEAR THIS IS TRUE, and the next song to come over the speakers is “Only love can break your heart….”

At that moment I begin to shake. My arms and legs go bananas, and I sit there on the old orange and gold and white striped couch just...shaking. I pick up my cell phone and dial Sandra on her direct line at Ibex in San Jose. By the grace of God, she is there. I start to cry, and I shake even worse, and God bless her, she listens. She tries to talk me down. She asks me to read some of what I’ve written out loud to her over the phone. And I do that, and it feels good, I need to say the words out loud. And then, I reach into my purse and yes, I pop an Ativan beneath my tongue. But I pop just one.

As the pill starts to give me a bit of relief, I think to myself, if I could, I would make all of this pain go away. I would do that by going back in time, rewriting history. I would revise the story of me and David. I would rewrite it –- drastically -- so that nothing awful ever came to pass between us. I would erase the fact that for so many years of our marriage, I didn’t love him the way I should have. I would erase the fact that last year, he thought he’d found somebody else who would. In the revised story, I would love him just the way I should have. In the revised story, I would keep myself from hurting him. And I would keep him from hurting me.

I certainly wouldn’t end up sitting here in this coffee shop, sobbing. I wouldn’t write all the slop that I have been writing for the past hour or so. And I wouldn’t sit in this goddamn prison chained by the leg, either. I wouldn’t be accused of killing my cousin Antonie, and I wouldn’t face hanging by a rope. Nor would I have this festering sore crawling up my leg, the skin more red and puffy every day, the pain slowly rising, threatening to overtake my kneecap.

No. Instead, I would...just switch:

To the courtyard behind the convent. The courtyard tiled in white and turquoise blue -- the colors of the Pacific Ocean -- the tiles cracked in so many places. The cracks black and snaking all around the fountain, which at this time of year, is dry.

The sun beats down on me and Sister Theresa. We came out here to snap beans for dinner a little while ago, and when we finished the beans, we never went back inside. We sit here scattering some stale bread crumbs for the birds. We sit in silence, with Theresa occasionally humming or whistling. We just let ourselves feel the sun on our faces, bound as they are in the tight white wimples. We feel a gentle wind on our cheeks. We stare up to the hillside behind the convent. The hillside is the color of a golden lion’s coat, and on top sits the sprawling live oak where Theresa and I often go and take a blanket and some fruit for late afternoon “picnics.”
We sit on the blanket and I read to her from my diary and often, she tries to give me advice about what to do about my cousin, Antonie.

I close my eyes now and inhale and the smell of sage is everywhere. Ah, but the California sun is warm and so reassuring. There are bees swarming our faces. A couple of grey and white cats (one is Jonah, and the other, honest to God, is called Catechism!) are sprawled at our feet. Theresa lets loose with a sharp whistle to attract the hens, and soon they are bobbling over to her side, cackling their hearts out. She reaches into the pocket of her habit and pulls out some hard corn and scatters it for the pecking chickens.

Despite the heat, Theresa and I are dressed in black, our wool habits going head to toe.

And yes, if I could, I would go back

There. But then, of course,

I already have.

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