June 11, 2007

The secrets of stillness

Some nights when I was little and sick, or when I woke from a nightmare and looked out my bedroom window into the dark tops of the trees and saw terrible things in them, I would muster my nerve, slip out of bed and half-run half-tiptoe into their room.

I would always go to her side of their bed.

“Mom,” I would whisper into the dark, “I’m scared.”

Always on her stomach, I wondered how she breathed sleeping like that, her face pressed into the pillow. While I stood there quietly breathing in the musty smell of a warm down comforter in a cold room, I worried that she was suffocating, she was so still. And then, suddenly, on intuition and my single whisper alone, she would be up, tiptoeing from her room to mine wordlessly, leading me with her hand on the top of my head.

Once in my room with her, it was no longer a scary place. Trees were trees. Shadows were shadows. My fear seemed ridiculous, misplaced. I always half expected her to leave upon our discovery that there was nothing to be afraid of.

But instead, she would slip into my twin bed, scooting all the way to the edge and motioning me in. Gratefully, I'd join her. There we would lay on our sides, an S next to an S, her arm over me, both our heads on one pillow.

And just like that, in a minute or two at most, she would be asleep, perfectly still. It was the only time I ever knew her to be still, I think.

I would listen, wide awake: Her shorter breaths became long ones, rhythmic in and out, in and out. Sometimes the pause between them would grow so long my heart would almost stop in a panic, but always it came and went eventually... in and out.

I would want to move, adjust. Maybe I had an itch. But she was always so still that I never could bring myself to. Instead, I willed myself to be like her -- I willed my bones to be heavy, my body to go numb. I listened to the in and out. I made myself be very still in the black.

In and out, I listened.
In… and out.

I trained my body to be restful, my breath to be long like hers.

In… out.

And her great, warm, rhythmic stillness would press me down slowly into the night, as I listened to her sleep song. And a terrifying night would transform into something known; something velvet-deep and calm.

I never woke until morning was brassy and bright upon me, the night like a vague memory. She was always gone by then, up and busy.

She was always moving until I needed her, and when I needed her, she taught me the secrets of being still.

1 comment:

jali said...

That was very sweet.