New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Opening Statement

February 24, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Mary Sojourner

I Am What I Am…

by Mary Sojourner

I walk east, away from the last light of the shortest day. The edge of the circling earth covered the sun a little earlier. I walk on Winters Road next to a ribbon of gleaming snow-melt in the High Mojave Desert. The colors of clouds and snow-melt shift: lilac to rose, rose to red-gold, red-gold to pink, pink to turquoise, turquoise to ice blue.

I let the colors fill my mind. There is barely enough room for them. I’m in a new level of my addiction recovery and withdrawal. I’m terrified ninety-five per cent of the time. Thoughts rattle. “What if? What if? What if?” The past and present jam up in the now that we are told so blithely to occupy.

Suddenly, I think not of colors or terror or the way a barbed wire ribbon of past and present has been streaming through my brain. I think of J., the gentle super-market bagger. He is a short middle-aged man, his hair faded rust. He wears thick glasses and he often talks himself through packing the groceries. “Good, that fits right there. Not the apples next to the onions. Too heavy, take out the milk.”

That afternoon, he had walked me and the shopping cart to my car. There were snow-melt puddles on the asphalt. The bagger wore galoshes and stepped carefully. He mumbled something. I was attending to the strand of concertina wire that had braided itself with the barbed wire in my mind.

“What if I go, as I seem to be going, completely broke? What if I can’t move beyond Chapter One of the women and gambling book? What if I’ve been wrong in writing for the same reader that brilliant medical science translator from The New Yorker writes for? What if the failure of my editor to understand the brain science is not because of her, but because of me who could never grasp calculus, logic, or the basics of statistics?”

“Op……..s…mumble…op…me….mumble.” J. muttered next to me. We had reached the back of my car. Suddenly he waved his arms wildly in the air. “Op…s…Mumble…me.”

I considered again if I had in fact lost my mind. The un-buffered world had become over-flowing with sights and sounds. Sometimes I thought I could not understand what was being said to me. Associations frayed and came apart. Intuition and Who-Knows-What carried me most of the time. They nudged me, “Ask him what he’s saying.”

I turned to the bagger. “I wear hearing aids. What are you saying?”

He reared back, threw his arms over his head and pointed at the back door of the car with all the arcane power of the old Magician in Fantasia. “Open Sesame,” he shouted. “I’m saying Open Sesame, Open Sesame.”

“Well then,” I said, “So shall it be.” I pointed the door opener at the car, clicked and said with majestic authority, “Open Sesame!” The door sprang open. We both cheered.

He lifted the cat food and wild birdseed into the back. “Thanks,” I said. “A Thousand and One Nights was my favorite childhood book.”

“I haven’t read that yet,” he said.

“Did you see Aladdin?”

“Yes,” J. said, “and there was an old cartoon with Bluto and Popeye…” He seemed to fade into himself. His voice was nearly inaudible. I guessed he was tired — and besides the wires had resumed coiling madly in my thoughts. I thanked him. He walked away.

*     *     *

I drive to the store after my sunset walk and buy ground turkey for my frazzled brain. I see J and smile. He says, “I hope you are having a nice holiday day,” in his careful voice. “Open Sesame,” I say, “remember we said Open Sesame.”

“Oh yes,” he says, “that is from A Thousand and One Nights, a book as valuable for a child as Tom Sawyer.”

I seize the moment. “What did you say Bluto and Popeye said?”

“Bluto,” J. says, “was at a cave. He said, ‘Open Sesame’, then Popeye came along and he said, ‘Open sez me.’” J. nods gravely.   “Thank you,” I say, “for clearing that up.”

I carry my groceries to the car. For a few minutes, the wire ribbon in my mind is transformed into shining snow melt.

Mary Sojourner is the author of the novel Going Through Ghosts (University of Nevada Press, 2010) and the memoir She Bets Her Life (Seal Press, 2009), among her many books. She is a National Public Radio commentator, and is the author of numerous essays, columns, and op-eds for dozens of publications. She blogs at Psychology Today, and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.

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