The Right Side Of History. In Three Parts.
When I was a little kid my older sister took great satisfaction in pointing out, because I’m allergic to fish (among many things), that had I been born an Inuit, I’d be dead. It didn’t take much to see myself wrapped in a bearskin, half starved, my disappointed mother wailing as my father, chief of the tribe, sent me off on my own child-sized ice floe to meet my fate. I realized then that it was sheer happenstance that I was born south of the Arctic Circle in a place full of food not hell bent on killing me and, from that point on, I have never taken for granted my place in the world and my moment in history.
Three years ago I had the first of many vertigo attacks. It was terrible. For what seemed an eternity but in fact was only a few seconds, my whole spatial, corporeal, and visual relationship to the earth was as disoriented as a cubist painting. I screamed in terror. My husband was so freaked out that he was convinced I must have a brain tumour. You would think after an episode like that I would haul myself off to a doctor. But I didn’t. My fear of them was greater than the spins. For three years I tried to live without ever turning my head to the right. Then it caught up with me. It didn’t matter where my head was, everything was spinning out of control. I had to go to a doctor. What might have been a single procedure to cure me three years before now required me to do it over and over and over again. This experience, of basically leaning into what I had so assiduously avoided for all those years, so traumatized me that, for reasons I can’t even begin to explain, songs flooded into my head and have not left.
One day, after seeing me once again throw myself on the bed and scream into a pillow ( I had read somewhere that screaming can drive songs out of your head) with no immediate affect, my husband said, “Salem, 1600’s, no doubt about it, you would be lashed to a stake with flames licking at your feet.”
He then, as if he was the grand inquisitor himself, listed all my traits that would have had those good citizens thinking the devil was lurking beneath my pilgrim’s garb: Night terrors, sleep walking, a penchant for talking to myself, fear of doctors, panic attacks and songs seemingly permanently lodged in my head.
“Well then,” I said, “Isn’t it lucky that I am alive now in this age of reason and science, and all that ails me can be explained.”
“Oh really?” Charles said “How?”
“I haven’t clue.” I said. “But at least I’m not going to be tied to the stake.”
The other morning I woke from a delicious dream, you know the sort: a handsome movie star, unrelenting passion and me quite a bit thinner. Its afterglow stayed with me right up until I had to meet a girlfriend for lunch. She immediately noticed my beatific expression and wondered at its source. I told her it was a dream. She then got wistful and murmured, “I love those dreams.”
But later as we pushed aside our plates, each leaving the requisite two bites, a shadow crossed her face.
“What?” I asked.
“I heard the most awful story recently,” she said, “A girl, in one of those deeply repressive societies, she too had a dream. But she thought it meant she had broken some moral code…”
“But that’s ridiculous,” I interrupted.
“Maybe, but she blamed herself and was convinced that no decent man would want her.”
“So what happened?”
“She hung herself.”
Suddenly I felt very sad and sick to my stomach. Our lunch ended on a decidedly down note. As I walked along my Brooklyn Street crowded with restaurants, shops and bars, every one out in the autumn sunshine, I stopped into a spice store to buy, well, spices, fragrant and lovely, so I could make a North African stew for dinner because that’s the best thing about living in a huge multicultural city, there’s not a recipe, or a food stuff, or an overheard language, or a faith, or a fucking sex dream that I’m not free to experience and I bowed, not for the first time, to fate for planting me here at this time and at this place.