Years ago I lived in Huntington Beach with my musician boyfriend and his teenaged son. One weekend a month, to get a break from the teen drama, my boyfriend and I would escape to a hotel in Rosarito, Mexico, driving across the border on Friday night to hang with other musicians from Southern California who gathered for jam sessions that filled your soul with music and surf and Margherita’s – and steak and lobster and poetry.
To get a reservation at this hotel you sent them a letter, and they mailed you a confirmation letter back. They had no telephones. You paid in cash, the plumbing was marginal, and walking from your room to the main restaurant smelled – you had to breathe through your throat to get to the ornate bar.
And yet, the place was electric. The musicians who showed up might look like an old album collection with dust on the edges. – and in this beautiful, old, rundown seaside resort, there was an opening to the magic.
One Saturday night, I was in the shower in Rosarito – timing the short hot water bursts to get ready to for a long night of drinking, eating, music and sex, and I fell to the tile floor, unable to breathe, the water quickly turning cool.
My boyfriend rushed in.
Should I call an ambulance? he said forgetting there was no phone and no way to call anyone.
We’re…. in…… Mexico, I choked.
He walked my dripping body, and hair with shampoo clustered in the scalp to the bed, where I continued to hunch over and gasp for oxygen.
I looked into the blue Pacific Ocean of his eyes, his blonde hair falling over one eye, his other eye tearing in fear.
Nothing’s wrong with me I said, something’s wrong with someone I love.
When I said that, I began to be able to breathe again into the truth of it.
That night my feet tapped less to the rhythm, my boyfriend didn’t take to the stage. I ate less, breathed shallow.
The next morning was Sunday, and we began the long drive back to Huntington Beach. There were eleven messages waiting for me on my answering machine – from my mother, from my brother’s wife, from friends in San Francisco.
My brother had gone to a wedding of a mutual friend, and his lung had collapsed while he was getting dressed, and he was unable to breathe. This happened at approximately the same time I fell in the shower.
I was twenty nine then and I’ve learned so much since that event. Now, when something is wrong with my body, I know to check in with the people I love as well as myself.
It can be confusing to be at your doctor, because you can’t say, perhaps my eyesight is going because the man I love can no longer see.
(then try to explain the concept that lack of sight can be metaphorical).
There is no way to treat this kind of empathic, telepathic illness.
I’m writing to tell you this: Your body doesn’t belong to you alone – it belongs to everyone you love. It’s part of the earth and part of the universe and there is so much suffering in the world. Recognizing your body’s response is an important part of healing – not only yourself, but others.
The people we love affect us – block our arteries, back up digestion, reduce our visibility, because we are all in this together, all connected to each other in mysterious ways we sometimes can’t define. Certainly the medical world can’t define it.
Now that I have your attention, I need to remind you that the people you love can also help you heal, can send the same energy to you for healing that you can send to them for healing.
We are all interdependent upon each other, even though we like to retreat into our corners and pretend it isn’t so. We stare at our phones too much, watch Netflix, eat canned soup.
But here’s the truth of it – I need you the same way the starling needs the antlers of a deer, and you need me the same way the sweet clover and dandelion need the honey bee.
Let’s not pretend it’s otherwise. Let’s embrace each other and our bodies and start the healing.
It’s really the only way.