I am in the shower tonight.
For over an hour.
Seems I cannot shower enough during these dark, chilling days of autumn. For reasons I still find curious.
What reasons, you ask.
I could tell you. I could say that I like the heat and how the wet steam rises, or that I am washing off the stench of each day’s ever more rancid news, or that I have a new-found dedication to feminine conventions and shave my legs now twice daily, maybe my pubes too. In fact, I like these answers. I think I will tell you one of them. Or you just pick yourself a favorite, and pretend it’s what I said.
Pretend I did not tell you the truth: that I am still learning what it means to feel, in all the senses of the word and of the senses, and it is only when hot water hits me everywhere and all at once that I can remember the names of human emotion.
Most of the time I spend standing in the shower I am crying. Don’t read too much into that, though.
Showers are a liminal space, is all.
* * * *
Do you remember the story of Persephone and Demeter? Did you learn that one too, back in grade school—that shard of divine ancient mysteries passed down as just one more just-so story of how a simpler people made simple sense of the turning of the seasons, and of the earth’s swallowing into winter’s death?
Persephone, you recall, gets snatched (occasionally “ravished”, never once “raped”) by the dark underworld’s dark Lord. When the trick of seven pips means the harvest goddess must live deprived of her daughter’s laughter for half of each year entire, Demeter spends those months of silence in a ravished grief all her own. And so the earth ceases to give bounty.
And so man’s fields turn to straw.
Demeter’s mourning, I remember well. The sharp, recurring pain of a mother who cannot keep the child she went seeking for. Who cannot ever get back entire the daughter she once let go.
But what about Persephone? Did we ever learn what happens to her?
I don’t mean the initial snatching. Nor the recurring nightmares she must have had, where the ground is opening beneath her feet and no one comes when she screams or lets her leave when she begs. I don’t mean the lightness and laughter she must have felt the first time she ascended, and how there were again her mother’s kisses and daffodils blooming and sheepdog puppies just learning to herd.
I mean, how did she feel the first time she had to go back down. The first time she realized how many of her losses would endure, that she too could never get back entire that self that she lost. All on account of a mouthful of fruit she never wanted to eat in the first place.
(Though I think the true fruit eaten was Persephone herself.)
So. What about her.
How much time, that first winter back, do you think she spent quietly sobbing in the shower?
* * * *
It was a year ago this month that I finally reintegrated the pieces of my mind long shattered by trauma. Next month it will be a year since I first recognized my face in a mirror and remembered myself in the sound of a name I have carried since birth.
It was a year ago this month I first wondered: who is this “Alice” I have created…and why the hell would I (as Alice) choose to write so intimately about my past?
Who are these people I have been calling friends? What are these endeavors I have been putting energy into?
WHO IS THIS PERSON I have been living my life as??
The past year has been, to put it mildly, one helluva wild ride. So many blockages in my head I have long considered personality traits—unfortunate, perhaps, but inevitable—turn out instead to have been features of the disorder. Common symptoms of the PTSD-addled, and not evidence of my consignment to an existence necessarily nasty, brutish, and short. Not signs that I was born under an evil sky. Not cursed. Not hated by the gods.
Finding out you are not literally accursed will turn a girl’s head faster than a baby sheepdog, and that’s no joke.
I think I can forgive myself believing that I could, I would, I already had come back to myself entire. If not totally unscathed by my decades spent in darkness, at least untouched in any way that mattered. I could reduce it all to mere salutary experience in the end, albeit one that endured too long for comfort.
I would not need Alice. I would not need who I had become.
Because I had again become who I once was.
I imagine Persephone thinking much the same thing, her first spring back in sunlight, when the dogwood petals still perched on their branches and the scent of lilac fell heavy through the air. But then came the first fall.
And the leathery skin of pomegranates, concealing treacherous jeweled seeds within.
And, at long last, recognition of how not all that is once lost, can ever come home again.
* * * *
What about Persephone.
I do not mean to claim she felt nothing but sadness, as she wound her way back down the curving staircase into earth’s darkness. Life as a ravished chthonic queen may not be life as a damsel in a field of daisies, but neither is it nothing. If grief she carried, it brought with it now pride as well—a burden she at last understood, and through that understanding, her grief became also a source of treasure she had earned.
I am still willing to bet Persephone took a lot of showers, though.
Maybe she even decided to restart her blog.