All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams. – Elias Canetti
In the dream, the red backpack hangs on a hook in the closet of the childhood bedroom I shared with two of my sisters. I pull it down. I put it on the bed. I open it. The bag is full of clothes, clothes I had forgotten I owned. My sisters are around me suddenly. All seven of them. They watch as I pull out the clothes, one article at a time. At the sight of each piece, they cheer and clap. They are so happy for me. Even the one from whom I’ve been estranged for two decades.
What was I like when I owned that backpack? my shaman asks me. I’m sitting on his couch, crying; I have recently divorced and I feel completely broken. Despite the tears, I smile. Incredibly creative, I say without hesitation. That backpack carried the books and notebooks and sketch pads of my undergraduate years.
In those days, if I wasn’t drawing, I was writing; if I wasn’t writing, I was drawing. I was also reading. Everything. On top of those things, I was singing in both a local blues band and the university chamber choir, playing guitar, and composing songs. I had a beautiful, long-haired boyfriend, an artist who wore his heart on his sleeve and knew how to cry.
I graduated and took a job as a teaching assistant in Le Mans, France. I discarded the tattered red backpack before leaving, and lost the long-haired boyfriend not long after settling in to my life over there. The heartbreak was devastating; I numbed it not through alcohol or drugs, but through grinding work. For two years I would focus all my energy on turning my childhood heritage French into a fully developed language I could read and write. I would go from there to the University of Maine and then to Université Laval in Québec City to do more of the same, and from there to Boston and then to Brooklyn to teach. There was work to do. There was always work to do. Work, work, work.
My sisters clap and cheer at each article of clothing I pull out of that red backpack. Why would they do that? It’s just clothing, I tell my shaman. What does the dream mean? My shaman has no answer for me, only more questions: And if you are every person in the dream? If you are also the clothes?
Than I am happy for myself. I am so excited at what I have found in that red backpack: the artist, the inner child, Toothpick (see Love is forgiveness, 12 March). But also the other inner child, the one who came after. The writer: Frankie.
Frankie is a rebel with a bit of an edge. She reads anything and everything, and she is always writing. Poems, stories, letters, a mystery novel. In her writing, Frankie tests out swear words; Frankie says it like it is.
In Frankie’s mind, the brokenness I had spoken about to my shaman had nothing to do with my divorce. She was like, ex-husband who? Fuck that guy. (See? Testing out swear words.) We have real work to do. You have to tell your dad you love him and that you’re sorry, for starters, and then you have to say goodbye. He’s dead, but between me and God and Toothpick, we’ll figure something out. We have to. You won’t be at peace until we do.
Who’s not dead, if you haven’t noticed, is your mother. You must get to know her. Not the mother you wanted as a child, dumbass, but the mother you have. The one who won’t live forever. You’ll have to say goodbye to her someday, and you better be fucking ready.
Some other people who aren’t dead yet are your sisters. Remember them? You must get to know them, too. Even the one you haven’t spoken to in 20 years. Especially the one you haven’t spoken to in 20 years.
And you. You’re not dead. So stop acting like you are just because some guy divorced your ass. You were miserable, don’t forget; he did you a favor. You should thank him for it some day. In the meantime, you’re going to get to know yourself. Your real self. Which means those breast implants have got to go, sister. Sorry to break it to you. They’re pretty and all, but they’re dumb. They’re not you. And they’re making you sick. You are beautiful the way God made you, you stupid, silly little bitch.