The Stick Hunter

2.00 p.m.  I’m raw and numb.

I thought I was doing really well on Sunday, especially with the help of Graham and Kim to cheer us up.  Then yesterday, after I wrote the day’s entry about the kindergarten debacle, I fell into a complete pit.

I went upstairs to bed, shoved earplugs in my ears, buried my head under the pillow and cried and slept until lunch-time when Cliff insisted I come eat with him.

I was in a deep dark canyon with no way out.   It was a sheer cliff edge I had fallen off.  Instinctively I needed everything around me to be warm, calm, silent and dark, so I could go hunting.  I had to go under my covers and shut the world out for the quiet and headspace to look inside my heart.   I went hunting in my heart for sticks.

The Stick Hunter

I needed to find any sticks I could to build a ladder to climb back out of the black hole I was in.  Because, before long, Cliff and the kids were going to need me again and I had to stay on top.  Nothing was hopeful.  Everything was black.  Everything was too hard.  I was too exhausted.  I couldn’t get out.  Mostly I lied on the canyon floor for a while, exhausted from the fall and from balancing on top of the cliff for days.  I knew I should start looking for sticks to build a ladder to climb out, but I was too tired and broken to look.  So I buried my head in my hands for a long time and shut everything out so nothing could hurt me for a while.

That’s where I found the first strength to look for sticks.  Just by letting nothing hurt me for an hour.  Then, I thought, I better start this job of stick hunting.  I started looking around where I sat, curled up on the canyon floor.  Nothing.  Then I raised my head to look around my immediate circle a little further out.   I thought maybe in the distance I saw something blurry that might be a stick.  But I couldn’t be sure.  Then my phone beeped.  It was beside my bed.  I reached out of my bed-cover-cave with one arm, grabbed it and pulled it back in with me.  It was a text from my friend, Jessica.  She’s the first friend I called with the news, a few days after we got it.

She asked how my night had been and if she could get anything for me at the grocery store and reminded me it was her pleasure and not a burden.  A stick.  I wrote back, told her I was hunting for sticks in my heart, she knew what I mean, and that I would be O.K.   She told me, ‘You, my dear, have the biggest, strongest heart I know.  Those sticks may be hard to find right now, but you will find them. J xxx.’

I thought I could make out the shape of two more sticks in the distance.  I cautiously walked over to see if they were.  I couldn’t bear more disappointment here at the bottom.  I walked to them, tried to reach them, but it was still too dark and they were blurry.  I sat down, brought my knees into my chest and wrapped my arms around them.  I’d have to wait a little longer.

I waited.  Nothing.  The nothing was a relief.  I soaked up the nothing.  No hurt.  No emotion.  No response needed.  The nothing was strengthening.

A little light started to creep into the valley.  Yes.  There were two sticks next to me.  I think they were discarded from the tree that I planted when the kids were born and that grew because I devoted myself to being the best parent I could be for them.  I closed my eyes tight and reached out for the sticks.  Too scared to watch if I could get a hold of them or not.  I got them.  I grabbed them desperately and held them close inside, near my tummy, tight.  Then I slept.

When I woke up, the canyon was the same as before.  But I noticed just a hint of some light that was more a ‘softer dark’ than an actual ‘light’.  I checked and the two sticks I had found were still firmly in my grasp.  I stood up.  And took in the canyon floor.  Yes, I could definitely see hazy bumps on the floor now.  I knew they were sticks.

In the real world Cliff came to check on me.  I said I didn’t want anything, thank you.  He went down to string the Christmas tree extension chord over the door with the help of my dad, so no one tripped on it.  He had been building up his energy, which was low from chemo, to do that job for 24 hours and was looking forward to doing it with my dad.  They enjoy each other.

My phone rang.  It was another friend.  I didn’t answer it but because of it, when I looked back into the black bottom pit in the depths of my heart, it was a little lighter and I could clearly make out a lot of small strong sticks in the canyon.

I still couldn’t move, but it was getting lighter and I realized where the light was coming from.  I thought it had been rising from the edge of the canyon … but it was coming from me.  So I stood.  With my sticks, trying to press more light out of myself.

I focused everything I had on trying to glow a little more.  It was sort of working.  I think.  Then I heard Cliff’s phone ring.  It was Trisha, our friend who went to school with Cliff, and Cliff said he was fine. ‘Ten out of ten today’ (that’s a chemo 10, not a normal 10), but he thought Trisha should talk to me.  So he brought me the phone.  I didn’t want to talk.  I was busy trying to glow and focus on the sticks I could see.  But I talked.

Initially, when we spoke, it all went dark again because I had to show her where I was.

She lost her daughter to a rare genetic disease three years ago, so she had been in that canyon.  Once I’d shown her, and she was down in that canyon with me, she grabbed me, through the phone, by my shoulders, turned me around and with the friendliest firmest thump, slapped me on the back and my light popped on.  Basically she said, ‘You gotta get out of here.  You’re not doing anyone any good down here.  You can do this.  I’m here with you.  Now go.’

Only we can see our own light, so she asked if it had worked or not. If her ‘wake-up call’ had rattled my light back on.  I assured her my light was working, had come on properly and that I’d get the ladder built and be out of there by lunch.  We said goodbye.

I got busy, quickly building the most rickety ladder in history.  It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to get you to the top.  And I went downstairs to have lunch with Cliff and my dad.

There was a parcel, from gorgeous Jessica, of groceries in the esky (cooler) on the front porch and in it an article about a famous Australian athlete who was diagnosed with cancer and given three weeks to live.  His wife was described as clear thinking, unsentimental and brave.  I didn’t want to be unsentimental but I had to be brave.  So after lunch I had a shower, ironed a skirt, put on make-up and went to collect Tom from kindergarten and our big boys from school.

A friend at school said she was surprised how good I looked considering what was going on.  I don’t have to look as bad as I feel.


An uneventful and normal afternoon after that of piano lessons, getting more groceries and a car wash.

Love Esser

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