“There would be going away and the coming back, and whatever would greet me on returning I would take stoically, accepting the responsibility of my own will, be it free or predetermined by my nature and circumstances.”
– Sylvia Plath, Journals
On my first day back in Vancouver, I fell on an escalator.
I had three pieces of luggage with me. A big suitcase with a broken zipper on both front pockets, a small suitcase, and a giant bag. I found a way to walk that made sense to me. Maneuvered myself through the sky train ticketing entrance, and plowed myself and all of my belongings through the train doors. I told myself ‘welcome home,’ but I didn’t believe it yet. I got off at City Centre. Walked towards the escalator.
One suitcase, me, the other suitcase.
That’s when I fell. Backwards. The people standing behind me, slowed my fall down but they couldn’t stop me completely. I had too much stuff. I looked up at my feet, further up the escalator than my head. I was laying on my back. My suitcase was on top of me. The whole escalator had stopped. The escalator had been full. I thought I heard some grumbles as people started to walk up the steps themselves. I shimmied out from under my suitcase and onto the people still standing behind me, and they helped me to my feet. I had just finished righting my two suitcases and slinging that giant bag over my shoulder again when a man came down the steps.
I told him that “I did.” Raised my hand, unnecessarily. He asked if I was okay. I told him “yes.” He wanted to know if I was sure. I told him I was.
We were closer to the bottom than the top, so the man helped me carry my stuff down. Told me where the elevator was. I mumbled something about how I should have used that to begin with. The woman who got on the elevator with me was standing behind me on the escalator and I’m pretty sure she’s one of the people I fell on. She was also on the same 9 hour plane ride as me. She’s probably just as tired as I am, I think, and I feel guilty for causing her this inconvenience.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t catch you,” she tells me.
All of this happened about four months ago.
Since getting back from France, I sometimes catch myself measuring time against the day I got back.
When I was in France…
A week after getting back, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t start many sentences this way. I didn’t want to be that kind of person. So instead, I’d say ‘when I was travelling.’
When I was travelling, I felt like I was there for a reason. I felt like I had real work to do, and I avoided distractions.
When I was travelling, I Iooked for signs everywhere. I helped a woman peel the wall paper off the walls of her new home – the beginning of a new life she’d be leading with her three children – and I told her that I’d once done this with my mother. I mined the people I met for ‘the reason’ they’d been attracted into my life. I turned my life into a story, and everything was a plot point.
When I was travelling, I careened towards the last day of my trip with an insistence that when it got there I’d be ready. I put a lot of emphasis on the word ‘last’.
In my first two-hours home, I fell on an escalator.
Where am I now?
I’m sitting in my bedroom. My bed is unmade, but everything else in my room is clean and has its place. I live in a four-bedroom home with three incredible roommates. We cook for each other; talk for hours and hours over tea. Endless cups of tea brew in my home.
I have anxiety.
I hate saying this about myself, because I’m afraid that if I say it out loud, the people around me will think that it’s who I am.
But it is something I’ve fought tirelessly against acknowledging as being still part of my experience. I’m going to acknowledge it now.
Anxiety is the itch that makes me want to rip time off like a band aid. I’m afraid to look at the wound anxiety has infected, so I leave the band aid on. Pretend I’m not itchy. I move with calibrated determination. Here, then there. And if I don’t know what’s next, I stop breathing and hide. Anxiety makes me care more about ‘what should be next’ than I do about my life.
Five years ago I interviewed a physiotherapist for the Capilano Courier (the first publication I ever wrote for) and she told me that the thing she found most challenging about working with her clients, was getting them to stop looking for the pain once it was gone.
Once it’s gone, I won’t have anxiety.
Myself without anxiety. I know it’s possible, because I’ve met her. I’ve met her a few times, and the absence of her without it scares me. “No, don’t speak in dualities; don’t split yourself in two” (advice from a friend). The concept of me without anxiety feels scary to me. Anxiety is how I hold on. Anxiety is my wings. It’s something I’ve told myself that I need in order to see.
The words ‘with’ and ‘gone’ don’t go together.
The words ‘next’ and ‘gone’ go together, but they’re a scary combination to consider.
After falling on that escalator, the woman in the elevator told me that she’d tried to catch me. When I tell you that her saying this surprised me, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me.
I can’t hear your experience, if I feel sorry for you for having experienced it. You can’t hear my experience, if you feel sorry for me for having experienced it. And I want you to hear what I’m telling you. My hands don’t have anxiety. My heart does. I want my heart to hear what I’m writing to tell her.
… I was escaping, going away; from what? The Atlantic? A novel? Dreams, private dreams. But if I work? And always work to think, and know, and practice technique always?”
– Sylvia Plath, Journals
I’ve learned something about myself in the four months since I’ve been back, and that is that ‘back’ is something I try very hard to avoid. ‘Back’ feels to me like ‘trapped’, and the sensation of ‘trapped’ has been a huge motivating force for me for a long time now.
I met a man named Swan when I was France who asked me why I was there. I told him I was there to die so that I could come back to life. He told me that he thought I was there because I wanted to be free.
He was right. But what I’ve also learned since then is that a very important part of my story is the ‘fact’ that I’m not free. That running away is something I need to do.
Eva Lewarne was born in Poland and came to Canada after completing high school. In Canada she attended U of T, then OCAD, majoring in Fine Art. Her last body of work Enigma and Illusion are influenced by her many years of meditation practice in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism.
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