For Sister

My sister, the painter, lays stones on me.

Sometimes I’m on the bed, sometimes, the floor of her studio on the second floor, a soft, thick blanket over me. She lifts it to place the stone, at my throat, on my chest, below my breasts, cold against my skin, the line from temple to crotch, my Chakras.

I’m surrounded by canvases, some painted, some white, stacked upright against the walls, a stool, hanging, on easels, like that one she’s working on in the middle of the room. Waves. Maine coast. Gold frames she bought used lay against a small table on the floor. Glass jars with brushes, books, some clay jugs set on a cloth, still life.

She lays the stones and tells me to keep breathing. She tells me, I don’t have to do anything. She does what comes to her in the moment. This moment, she rubs the fabric covered mallet against the brass bowl’s lip, a complete circle of sound, golden tone, with each lap. She burns sage. Sometimes she sings to me. I am jumping under my skin, this exercise difficult when I can’t feel anything, understand anything; I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, which I always tell her afterwards, how I want to run from the room screaming, my body all tight, my throat and back of neck all tight. And she smiles and giggles.

She has to remind me that what work is being done is being done whether or not I feel it or sense it or visualize it, the energy is there, moving.

Each time she has done this since the day I got in my car and drove away from Raleigh, my home, my husband, she tells me I am stuck. Something like that. I can never remember exactly what she says. The heart, from the belly button up, stuck, clogged, not moving. Which makes perfect sense to me because I have long wondered if I can really, truly, authentically feel love, receive love, give love. It makes complete sense to me that I am clogged there. I wait to experience the clearing.

Today, I experience acupuncture for the first time in my life. I have lived with a painful wrist injury for almost a year now—just about the same amount of time I have been separated from my husband. Interesting. What does this wrist, my hand, my arms have to do with love? Marriage? Wellness?

I took a new yoga class and asked the teacher about someone here in town who could work on me. Before the class was up, he’d contacted his partner, and afterwards, sent me to Eric, just a block or two away from where I was.

So, of course I went. Because since the day I drove out of Raleigh, I have allowed an invisible thread to affix itself to my head and I have willingly bowed. Yes, take me, I’ll follow. And it has been good at every turn. So I go to acupuncture, though I am scared right away. Needles and all, and that old fear of a medicine I don’t really know about that could be the 1 in a million case that goes wrong and I end up paralyzed or dead.

But I go and like this Eric immediately and trust him, and he makes me believe he can heal my wrist.

The needles going in don’t “hurt” but deliver, each one, a different sensation. And some are silent. One goes in at the wrist and I feel a surge of energy fast all the way to my thumb tip. One goes in at the upper arm and I feel it to my fingertips. I start asking right away, is this OK?  Is this what it’s supposed to do? The girl in me rising, and I’m right back in that dentist’s chair when I am eight or nine and he is pulling an abscess tooth and I am struggling to ask all the while, Is it out? Is it out?

Sometimes words come without your knowing they are speaking. It’s what comes from inside you you don’t know is at the ready. Just under the skin.

He is so calm and kind, this Eric, that I decide to go with it, just breathe. He readies to leave the room, saying the hard part is over now, and the rest is just me, resting. He keeps saying resting. I think about massages I’ve had or cranial sachral sessions where I’ve dozed, heard myself snore. But I doubt seriously if I will be able to rest now. There are about a dozen sliver needles sticking out from all over me, including the one at the top of my head and the one he put in last, right there, my forehead between my eyebrows. He said as he was leaving, You can look, first timers always want to look, and I think, Are you crazy? Thinking of me, still, in the chair, having blood drawn and looking way over my left shoulder.

I won’t rest. I am sure of it. There is an ache going up my left arm from the wrist (aching is a good sign, he said.) I stare at the black pin pricks of the acoustical ceiling tiles, eyes wide open, and try to breathe deeply. I wonder how long he’ll be gone. I wonder how long I’m supposed to lie here like a pin cushion. I wonder about that third eye punctured now and what it will see.

Then something good happens. Who knows how much time passes, but I do begin to relax. (He’d said, the last one, forehead needle, would help me to relax, at which I’m thinking, Dude, that’s the one that just ratcheted me up!) But I do relax. I am thinking and looking up and then my lids are closing and I am following images in my head and then I hear a snore or two and then I breathe and it starts again, and all the while, my body DOES relax, feeling heavier and heavier and deeply still, yet LIGHT, all at the same time, as if my fingers could now float right off my hand. It’s wonderful.

And it’s here in this state that I think and hold on to a lot of thoughts. I notice throughout most of this time, I am smiling. I am falling off into complete relaxation, and every time I come to, I am smiling. For a split second, I feel my energy, my whole self, shooting out of my open and calm eyes. Huh.

I think of Jan. I think of the section I worked on this morning about her years at Juilliard, her teachers, the luck she drew by attending Juilliard at just that time in its history. I thought about her whole self, her body, hands, that hair. I placed her outside her studio door on the fourth floor, saying so long to one student and turning to welcome me. I see her. I hear her, sound, inflection, volume, inquiry or statement, I can put words into her mouth. I have it all. And I realized, as I have several times recently, that now, at any one time, I can close my eyes and see her, recall her, fully, have her. And on the heels of that realization is this one: for many many years and certainly when I started to work again on this book in January 2015, I could not close my eyes and have her. I could not conjure her whole and feel her presence. She was in my head. It was an intellectual knowing. It was fact and history and memory.

Today, on the table, I thought, she was closed to me. And then, no—thinking about my sister and the stones and her loving, vigilance—it was me who was closed to her. She’s always been there. But my heart, my chest, my whole upper body to the tip of my head, still working on clearing, on having and feeling heart, has been closed to her. First, the tapes of lessons, the few videos I’ve been given, literally gave her back to me (I wrote about this in a post), but now, I realize, I actually am able to give her back to myself.

Because of this book, the research, the writing, the memory-tracking, and this, this work of opening myself up, I am giving her back to myself.


About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
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4 Responses to For Sister

  1. John Kramar says:

    You are love. Your words give me hope. They also renew Dear Ms. DeG’s presence in my heart and soul. Thank you, Dear One.


  2. Pingback: Update | The Stream and the Broken Pottery: a blog by Dawn Haines

  3. Pingback: 4 Days in May | The Stream and the Broken Pottery: a blog by Dawn Haines

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