Monday, December 11, 2006

Sleeping with the enemy

When we discovered the big butcher knife lying under the covers of the master bed when we turned down the sheets to get into it, we were naturally shocked. If you walk into a kitchen and see a butcher’s knife you don’t think twice. But when you pull down the covers of a big, fluffy down bed and you see a knife lying there it stops you, and it takes a moment to reconcile what you see; bed, knife, knife, bed. You generally don’t put the two together unless you’re watching a horror film. Or living in one.

We were at a meditation retreat and we were supposed to be keeping noble silence, but my friend who I was sharing the bed with, she gasped. Our eyes went wide and our jaws went slack. “Shit,” she said.

At first I thought it was a joke.

And then I remembered that the knife belonged to the woman who owned the house, who slept in the bed, who wasn’t at the retreat with us, but whose husband, our friend, was.

My friend’s wife sleeps with a butcher knife beside her in bed. I need to say that again because it’s so grave and has so many implications, not to mention the affect it might have on my friend’s love life.

My friend’s wife sleeps with a butcher knife beside her in bed.

I knew it was hers because my friend had mentioned this knife in passing once when he was trying to drum up compassion for the plight of his marriage. He wanted us to understand just how deep-rooted his wife’s paranoid fears were. “She sleeps with a butcher knife beside her in bed!” he implored.

“Sure she does,” we said, not entirely believing him. I mean, hearing about someone sleeping with a knife can sound like a metaphor, you know, knife in the bed, elephant in the room, until you actually see that knife lying in the bed you’re about to climb into. So we were sort of half listening because we couldn’t picture this knife and also, we knew his wife well; she was our friend too and we were fond of her. But here it was in living color: The butcher knife.

For hours after we’d discovered the culinary weapon I kept thinking about what it must be like to be someone who sleeps with a butcher knife. I’ve slept with the phone near the bed. I’ve occasionally slept with a heavy flashlight when my husband was out of town, but never a knife, and I wondered what it would be like to live with that degree of fear. I could feel it in my belly, how being so afraid would color everything.

It was easy to put my friend’s wife into the crazy corner, to see her fear as a sickness, a sign of how far gone she was. And it lived like that in me for a little while, but as I say, we were at a meditation retreat and so I got to sit with myself which meant sitting with this monkey-minded drama going on in my head that I was obsessed by. It involved some of my friends and it had something to do with sex and who had said what to whom and who I thought I could trust and who I couldn’t and what I was going to stop doing and what I would do more of. I sat there for the first whole day of the retreat scheming how to keep myself from being hurt by these people.

And all this scheming got very tiring and so I welcomed the knife and the diversion it presented.

I knew about some of this woman’s fears; how she thought the roof of the house was going to collapse on them. How she was sure her husband was going to separate her from her wealth. How the palpitations of her heart were a sure sign of a heart attack. I knew how many times she’d been taken to the emergency room because she thought she was going to die, only to be sent home with a sedative. And although my fears were different and seemed much smaller, the thing I realized I had in common with this woman was that we both believed the things we feared were real. She to the point of sleeping with a butcher's knife, and me, who had begun shutting out the people around me who I loved because they could not be trusted. And I realized at that point it doesn’t matter if you’re sleeping with a knife or sleeping with an elephant. You’re in a horror film and it has become your life.


la vie en rose said...

as i was reading i hoped you were going where i thought you were going...and you were. that last line was truly powerful and one we all need to remind ourselves of over and over again.

snowsparkle said...

nice write! finding a butcher knife in bed is such a perfect metaphor for paranoia... wow... it's the very thing i was stressing over today. no matter how many times i tell my mind to stop chewing on the same old stuff (as i'm swimming laps in the dark morning sky) the same old stuff keeps resurfacing. meanwhile, the zen side tells me "there's so much more to life than you. why keep mulling over details? make your ripples flow outward, then peace will find you effortlessly!" and slowly with each breath, i try again.

Furious said...

holy crap!

Burning Woman said...

I remember when I found my mother's knife in my parent's bed. I was afraid all of my teen years before I realized the fears weren't mine. Or maybe they were. But I got later in adulthood, they were just thoughts. So now I've been saying this thing to people and it makes me realize how much I want it every time I say it: By the time I'm fifty I want to feel safe everywhere. Everywhere.

ecm said...

Wow. What are the chances of actually finding a butcher knife in bed. I love when metaphors show up in real life. And fiction.

Anonymous said...

So vat she should put there, a butter knife??