The rain was coming down in torrents on that mild November day as we trudged the flat meadow trail blackened with mud, running alongside a rusted barbed-wire fence. The dog park was socked in by low gloomy rain clouds and gray sheets of wet. Our dogs had run on ahead, like us, undeterred by the sogginess, and happy to be roaming free. Blackened berms of hibernating blackberry and loganberry vines dotted the faded-yellow-grassed fields that was bordered to the north by a dark fringe of towering evergreens. Just a few months previous we, my sisters and I, had picked berries there in the warm sunshine.
On a clear day from the high-point of the Greenbank Dog Park, you can feast your eyes on a dynamic panorama of mountains ranges and water-ways that includes the Olympic mountains, Puget Sound, Holmes Harbor, the Cascades and Saratoga Passage, all products of gargantuan glacial and volcanic forces, whose upchucks and deep carves eons ago created the big beauty of the region. All was hidden from us that day. I straggled a few yards behind, lost in thought, as we walked on.
A couple of months earlier I had launched my Substack site, Wooza Wooza. I wanted to spread the gospel of self-love and compassion via personal essays. Love more, suffer less, I thought. Tell the stories about how fabulous we humans are in adversity and triumph. Shine a light on the tender depths of the human heart. In the first couple of months, I was excited to watch my readership grow from nothing to tiny. Yay! I was hopeful.
Maybe I was thinking about you, dear reader, on that rainy day at the dog park or maybe I was trying to remember when and how to use a semi-colon, some boring writerly thought like that when, WHOOSH! I found myself falling backwards, in true slip-on-a-banana-peel free-form-style, feet out and up, backside slamming into the ground with a hard thud.
For those of you who have broken a part of yourself, you know how discombobulating it is, the body jumping into full scale emergency mode, the shock, the slowing of time, loss of speech, the consuming pain, screaming like a police car siren. Ahh! Ahh! Ahh! I moaned, over and over again, signaling to my worried sisters not to touch me. I looked over at my right wrist and tried to get my bearings. Someone dialed 911. All went dark with stars when I tried to stand. Seated on the ground again, I slowly sank back onto the mud and closed my eyes. Vanquished.
A ship’s bell tolled midnight and a full moon caught the infinite ruffle of waves in its bright silvery beam that, fanning out towards the port side of the fast-moving freighter, drenched me in stark white light where I stood at the rail. A sudden movement in the shadows startled me.
At a young age I was made to understand, along with my twin and three younger sisters, that I was a Viking, in accordance with our Icelandic heritage. Being a Viking required that one be strong and resilient. Invincibility was central. By and large I was proud to be a Viking, although beneath my young Viking-ness lived a sensitive, tender-hearted and fearful, in a low self-esteem kind of way, girl. I was a strong and enthusiastic kid, but had a lot of self-doubt on board. At a deep level the world was frightening, not that I could verbalize my fear. There existed within me an emotional culture clash between my Viking self and my vulnerable young human-ness. I tried my Viking- best not to let on.
And so, at a young age, as happens to so many of us, I fell hostage to a family code, in my case the code of the Viking. Part DNA, part arrogance and pride, my family’s futile attempt to avoid those pesky feelings of pain, fear, weakness, humanness. Do all families have their unique systems of protective beliefs that can ultimately become a ball and chain?
My accident and ensuing months of pain, surgery, casts, stitches, PT, frustration and ibuprofen killed the illusion that I was invincible. You may laugh at the thought that a sixty-nine-year-old woman could still be invested in that illusion, but I was. And although, relatively speaking, a wrist fracture is at the bottom of the calamity scale of physical harms that can befall humans, my break was surprisingly devastating. Like the little black beetle flipped on its back, flailing its thin, hairy legs in the middle of a busy sidewalk, prey to random footfall, I was vulnerable. Vulnerability is anathema to a Viking.
In the shadow of the moonlight’s brightness a monstrous charred carcass of a sailing ship broke through the sea’s surface, violently churning the water. Rocking on the waves, its splintered wooden masts croaked and the charred scraps of sailcloth flapped like broken crow’s wings.
At my weekly physical therapy appointments, I would try to appear interested in my progress, but had trouble caring about the swollen wrist with its ugly red scar. The therapist would measure my range of motion, assess my progress, and give me a new sequence of exercises each week. I never did what I was told. Next visit he would patiently remind me about the three-month window of time that was fast closing in on me, my opportunity to rehab the damage. I listened attentively and nodded. The following week I would turn in another half-assed performance.
Then I met Evelyn and another kind of healing began. Evelyn was a massage therapist from Malaysia. She spoke in gentle, encouraging tones while working on my injured arm always assuring me that I was making good physical progress.
I listened to her describe her childhood in Malaysia Everyone was poor and reliant on others to survive, she told me. The self, as Americans know it, doesn’t really exist in Malaysian culture. You are everyone and everyone is you, she said. You are related to everything. Community and connected-ness were essential for survival in Malaysia. Your connection to others was your only wealth.
Clearly, Evelyn was not a Viking. I spoke about my family. How proud, strong and independent we were. I described the country of Iceland, its cold hard -scrabble existence, the strength required to eke out a subsistence existence, how hard times forced my great-grandfather, Sigurdur, to leave Iceland for Canada in 1886, destitute. One had to be resilient to survive in Iceland.
What was I looking at, there, rocking on the waves? What was that burnt, charred, wreck? My guts twisted in recognition.
During my final session on Evelyn’s massage table, she suggested that my right arm needed to relax. It couldn’t finish healing unless I could surrender. To what? You don’t need to carry so much, hold so much, resist so much, she said. Let go of the Viking. Breath in surrender, she said. Exhale the control. Let it flow out the ends of your fingertips. I focused on my breath. I tried. Evelyn’s hands touched my shoulder, massaging the muscles of my upper arm, forearm, wrist, scar, fingers. Breathe. In. Out. Surrender.
I let go.
A river of coal-black fear rushed down my arm. The swift dark current swept the burnt broken wreck out of my being and into the light of day.
Hi Karin. I love the memories and stories. Thanks for sharing them. I quickly create images of your stories and feel like I am there. Including your pain!!!! Ouch
Dear Karin, thank you for this.