Turning the key

Years ago, after I separated from my first husband, I moved in with the most awesome roommate ever. Thea was a bit older than me — her kids were just a little younger than I was.

I have no idea why she let me move in with her for nominal rent. Perhaps she took pity on my big, pleading puppy eyes. I was like a friendly stray who needed somewhere warm and dry to lick her wounds and recuperate before continuing on life’s journey.

A healing time

Thea was a healing force in my life at that time. We ate good food. She encouraged my burgeoning music desires — helped me record a Christmas CD on a 4-track and let me sit in with her duo even though I had major stage fright.

She also introduced me to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With The Wolves. Like several books that have had a profound impact on my life, I still haven’t finished it. Sometimes our psyche is able to handle only so much change and shifting at once.

Recently, a Facebook friend mentioned the book. She also had it on her bookshelf — unread.

Was it worth reading? she asked.

Yes. Definitely. Even one or two chapters a decade.

The story that both did me in and opened my eyes was Bluebeard.

The really short version

Bluebeard simultaneously courts 3 sisters. Two don’t like him, but the third falls for his charm and agrees to marry him. They get married and move into his castle.

Then he goes away on a trip and hands over the keys to all the doors in the castle. He tells his bride she can look in any room except the one unlocked with the tiniest key.

The girl’s sisters decide to make a game of finding out which door the tiny key opens. They run around the whole castle trying to find it.

When they eventually do, it reveals a room of horror — blood and bones and corpses of Bluebeard’s former wives. He murdered them all.

Bluebeard comes home and the girl tries to hide the truth. But he finds out and drags her to the room to kill her. She asks for 15 minutes to prepare herself for death, which he grants her.

But she’s stalling, waiting for her brothers to come and save her. They do, in the nick of time, cutting Bluebeard to pieces and leaving him for the buzzards.

My reaction

When I read the long and detailed version of this story, I had a few reactions.

I was mad at the sisters — getting the girl into trouble! Bluebeard had said not to open that door, why go and look for it? Why not respect him and just leave it alone? That’s what I would have done.

And then look what they found! That door was better left unopened. If she’d just left things alone, she wouldn’t be facing a life or death situation. She was going to join that room of corpses.

Clarrissa’s take

And then I read what Clarissa had to say about it. This is the lesson that stuck with me and I’m not checking the book at the moment, so hopefully I’ll paraphrase it right.

She said to shine a light into all the dark places within you. Take a look and see what’s really there. Because until you do, until you unlock the forbidden doors, then you can’t heal or get away from the demons or memories or whatever it is that feels like beheaded rotting corpses in your life.

At the time I was dumbstruck. Look into the dark places? Shine a light into the corners of myself? But what if I’m vanquished? What if “my brothers” don’t arrive in time?

Honestly, it’s something I still struggle with to some extent. I got very used to covering up the memories that were difficult, just to continue going on. I didn’t feel strong enough to face them.

Shining a light

Fourteen or so years later, I’m still facing Bluebeard. Which is why I’m writing this now. The stumbling block I’m noodling around with is that I need to write about my experiences.

As Cheryl Strayed puts it, my stories are a second heart, pulsing inside me, aching to come out. I’m at the point where it’s more painful not to write than it is to write.

So I write.

But what about the people I write about? The ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends, the parents alive and dead, the siblings and friends and co-workers. I’ve spent so much energy protecting their privacy at the expense of my sanity.

Do I just let go of that and not worry about it anymore? Do I live life for me rather than all the other people I’ve tried to heal? Do I stop worrying about their survival — people I’m not responsible for — and focus on my own?

Because while it seems dramatic to put it in terms of survival, that’s how it feels to me.

Growing things

The other night, Adam told me I smelled of growth and growing things. I am a growing thing. It’s coming out my very pores.

I feel like I’m in this place where I’m breaking open (open, not down). I’m in a time of my life where I have the space and time and support to change direction (within, perhaps) and become something greater and stronger and happier than I was.

Clarissa writes (among many other things), “The Bluebeard story raises to consciousness the psychic key, the ability to ask any and all questions about oneself, one’s family, one’s endeavors, and about life all around. Then…a woman is free to find true answers to her deepest and darkest questions. She is free to wrest the powers from the thing which has assailed her and to turn those powers which were once used against her to her own well-suited and excellent uses.”