Yesterday I was up at the Cloisters looking at a famous painting of the annunciation. A teeny Jesus is flying in Mary’s window, teeny streaks of light behind him, a toothpick cross on his back. He reminds me of Tinkerbell.
The tour guide said the announcement, the word of God, impregnated Mary, so Jesus was headed to her ear.
Do you know what’s inside you? Or how it got in there?
Or do you know what’s inside and what’s outside? Or what is chemical, what is science, and what is natural, whatever we mean by natural?
It still pisses me off that my anxiety remains relatively untouched by meditating, yoga, a hot bath, a massage. Those things help keep me going when I’m in the worst of it, but they help only a little. The itch is so deep in there, I can’t really reach it with anything but chemicals.
What helps is the drug no one actually knows exactly how it works, but perhaps keeps the serotonin in my brain from disappearing, raising my levels of serotonin to where most people’s are normally. And where mine were until six years ago. What we know is people can feel better.
When you’ve been having panic attacks and pretty much everything sounds scary to you for no reason, feeling better is a more intense version of when you have a terrible flu, and the first time you leave the house again, you just look out at the world, and your walking and talking and all the stimulation, you’re like, “Awesome! This is amazing!” I think, Why would I be afraid of the cafeteria? Or lunchtime? Or the bus? Wow, that’s crazy.
It does take a while, the last week I was deliberately trying to force my brain wrong, to see if I could… could I? I could work myself up a little, get nervous, that’s as far as it could go.
My sister came to visit, and it turned out to be less a go-save-the-faraway-family-member mission and more of a good time that showed how much better I am.
We walked in circles in Fort Tryon Park, accidentally. I had never had trouble finding the Cloisters before, but this time, when it was raining and her shoes soaked up puddle after puddle, the curved paths, past scent-glowing lilac bushes and along the cliffs that guard the peaceful Hudson from the city, we somehow made a circle, regrouped, made another circle, whoa. And only the third time we tried did we get a straight path, we got to where we could see the tower of the Cloisters rising above the trees.
“These trees are taller than in Kansas City,” she said.
“Nah,” I said.
“No, they are,” she said.
We got wetter, and wetter, in circles, on sidewalks, on gravel, until finally somehow we got in the right line. I saw the bell tower first, then the driveway.
When we were little girls, our grandparents took us to the Cloisters. We took a taxi from Penn Station. I remember someone saying it would be a long ride, and expensive. We saw the unicorn tapestries. I bought a flat gold bookmark in the shape of a heart. Like everything from New York, it was precious to me.
We joined up with a tour at the museum, and the guide explained that a tapestry and two different shades because the bottom was a repair job. “They did a wonderful job,” she said, “but this part with the color still vivid is plant dyes, and the part done with chemical dyes is the part that is all faded.
“So, go plants!” she said. The plants in the tapestry were roses, which, in medieval times, had plenty of thorns and were heavily scented, and did not climb. And lilies of the valley, who hang as jingle bells down stems, we had seen them in Fort Tryon Park, licked with rain. Lilies of the valley are the flowers our stepmom dug up from her mother’s yard, and planted in her own.
In the center was a tree that isn’t real. Only the fruits are real, pomegranates, which stretched to show their seeds, and dropped beads of juice.
Image: Detail of “The Unicorn in Captivity,” Metropolitan Museum of Art.