One week ago today I was whole. Later in the day, not so.
Fifty-five years ago today my youngest child, Matthew, was born. Never the same.
We never are, the same, ever.
I’ve been thinking of PTS a lot. What right have I to claim it? I mean I had a simple domestic accident, a fall over a footstool, onto a footstool, a heart-shaped stool with a duck painted on top; I fell into the crotch of the heart and ripped a three-cornered tear across the shin and almost into the bone. It hurt, that’s all. I mean, a car crash, or a mugging gone wrong, or a war didn’t cause it, all legitimate reasons for PTS. But this week I have had the odd shuddering, explicit memory of it followed by a shock wave across my whole system. I’m guessing that’s PTS:
"post-traumatic stress disorder |ˈpoʊst ˌtrɔˈmædɪk ˈstrɛs dəˌsɔrdər|
a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world."
I guess I have PTS. Also, my leg hurts.
So I’m sitting a lot and trying to justify my existence, puttering at paper, communicating with cohorts, fussing with fiddlies. Sorry, I can never resist alliteration.
Today I am having a birthday party for Matt. Actually I’m having a Matthew party. My granddaughter, the doctor, recently got engaged to a Matthew. He is Matt 2. And another granddaughter has a new boyfriend called Matthew, so he is Matt 3. And the three of them - different ages, of course, have adjacent – or is it contiguous? – birthdays. My Matt’s is in the middle.
Fifty-five years ago today, we weren’t sure he would live a week, let alone 55 years. It’s been a hard struggle for both of us. I grew up with him. And I wrote a lot about him: The Book of Matthew (his biography); Boy in a Cage (a chamber opera); Jason (a one-hander play), all produced or published. He helped.
I think it was Proust who commented on how unforgiving art is. No excuses. You either produce or you don’t, and no one cares why if you don't.
I suppose so many women writers (I guess visual artists, too, but I don’t know their stories as well)…many contemporary women writers have had abortions, for the sake of their work. I know (of) other writers who stick their aberrations in a room, lock the door, and throw away the room (Arthur Miller did that) as some people advised me to do when Matt was at his lowest ebb. So as to keep producing. And did the end justify the means? Who’s to say?
John Hirsch was a friend of mine; we were students together at the University of Manitoba and he produced my first adult stage play, an adaptation of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People that I wrote for him because he didn’t want to do Miller’s. I would have gone on being his handmaiden, writing speeches, doing research, following his suggestions – I have at least one complete play written at his behest, never produced – but when Matt’s troubles surfaced I had to spend too much time on physiotherapy and couldn’t spare any for Hirsch.
When John received his Order of Canada, The Book of Matthew had just been published (1985 ) and I sent him a copy with a note: “This is my Order of Canada.” Years later I received a CM of my own for an accumulation of effort, not much art.
But I have survived. We all do, in one way or another. And we all suffer PTS, in one way or another. Life is traumatic, no doubt about it. And no one one gets out alive. Cliché, cliché! True though, that’s why it’s a cliché.
Just keep on keeping on. And on and on.