Day 4 of The Cramp's Birthday! A story about the healing power of drums.
|On a usual day she worked until lunchtime, the heavy smell of oil paint wrapped her up like a blanket. Painting, for her, wasn’t just a job. It was a survival tactic. When she worked she forgot to worry. She forgot to tremble. She forgot that anxiety and depression hung on her like choking weeds. There was only her and the work, colors blending, darkness and light. She could sneak into the shadows of a painting and hide.
But she’d miscalculated. She ran out of yellow ochre. The blank, unfinished canvas glared at her. She couldn’t take its wide open-eyed stare. She’d have to go out.
She put on a hoodie over her shirt and a wrap over top of that. Layers to protect her from the world. She got onto the subway, mostly holding herself together but once on, things started to unravel. A man stood too close and too tall behind her. And certainly too loud, shouting into his cell phone. She gripped the bar she was holding too tightly.
She felt her stomach drop and fill with ice water. Her skin crawled. Her heart thrummed in her chest, almost painful. She had to move. She couldn’t move. She could barely keep herself contained inside her own skin. How could she control anything else? People filed out and a new press of bodies came in. She didn’t look at them, too focused on trying to slow her breath. By the time she succeeded she realized that she’d missed her stop. Just before the panic set in again she got a snatch of an old song in her head. Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown by the Stones. Well, it was fitting at least. Her heart rate kicked back up as another wave rose.
She felt a hand on her wrist. She didn’t recoil. She felt too frozen for that but her eyes snapped up to see who it was. A young man, not much taller than her. His hair was dyed electric red and styled in a short mohawk. He had more piercings in his ears than she could count. And a ring through his bottom lip. Leather and fishnet and black rimmed eyes.
“Hey.” He said, his voice soft.
She tried to turn away, feeling awkward but he tugged lightly on her arm. “Look at me.” He said. And she did mostly because it was easier to do what she was told than to flutter back and forth not knowing what to do with herself.
“Can you tell me something that you can see? A thing, a color?” he asked.
Her eyes flicked up to his hair, but then to brightness of his eyes. “Blue.” She said, her voice shaky.
“Yeah,” he smiled. “Good. Now, how about something you can hear?”
She listened, “A baby crying and the grinding of the tracks.”
She ran her tongue along her teeth. “Apples.”
“Alright, I know it’s not something you want to think about on the subway but how about smell?”
She wrinkled her nose and he chuckled. “I suppose that’s answer enough.” He said.
“And what do you feel?”
“The cold of the bar I’m holding.” She hesitated. “And your hand on my wrist.”
“Oh, man. Sorry.” He let go.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“Eh. My mum gets panics like that, too. Always helped her.” He shrugged pulling back from the strange intimacy they had just shared. “Did it help you?” he asked, appearing almost shy for the first time.
She took a deep breath and nodded.
“Can I ask what brought it on?”
“Crowds. But I needed paint. And then I missed my stop.”
“The next stop is mine. There’s an art shop on the corner there, I can show you, if you like.”
She found her paint and he asked her to lunch.
“Why do you dress like that?” she finally asked him as she dug into a frankly massive pile of Chinese food.
He shrugged. “Why are you wearing three layers?” he asked. “It’s just another way to hide.”
“But everyone sees you.”
“They think they do. They see me and make their assumptions but most of them are wrong.”
“I like the opposite, to pretend that no one can see me. Makes it easier to get from place to place.”
“Yeah,” he said, while tearing apart a crab rangoon. “Whatever works I guess.”
When they’d finished eating a silence fell that wasn’t totally comfortable, both of them wondering where it went from here. She was starting to fidget with her napkin and the straw in her drink and getting more and more self conscious and unsure.
“I have a thing tonight. A drum circle thing. Do you want to come?” he finally asked, a quiet edge to his voice. “It’ll be at a fire, just outside the city, so you can hide in the shadows out there.”
There wasn’t a more perfect way for him ask.
The night was warm and heavy like it gets before a storm. He settled on the ground next to her and handed her a drum.
She started to feel unsure but there wasn’t time for it to take hold. The leader started a beat that spread outward through the group. She joined in, quietly at first and then more sure as time went on.
The rhythm settled into her chest. For the first time in a long time she felt like she had control of something. The primal beat of the drums filled her up so that her heart couldn’t go haywire, couldn’t betray her.
She was part of the ground and part of everyone around her, tied together by the pounding beat that coursed through all of them.
Music was a language that didn’t need words and yet it spoke more clearly and more vibrantly than she’d been able to for years.
She grinned and turned to him to see the same wild expression of joy.
Then, just for a while, she sank down into peace.