There is a Season
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
I have finally finished reading “There is A Season: A Memoir,” by Patrick Lane. I started reading this book back in October, but I got really busy with work when I was halfway through the book and I sort of abandoned it. Sometime last month, I picked it up again and continued reading from where I left off. I do my reading in the bus while commuting to and from work. There was a time when I thought that I couldn’t read in a moving car or bus because it makes me sick. But on our road trip to Alberta last summer, I figured out a way how to make it work for me. I just have to hold the book upright so I’m not looking down. Because it’s the looking down that’s making me feel sick. Besides, it’s getting more comfortable sitting in the bus now that there’s more room in the seats without our bulky winter jackets.
I first heard about this book on the Vicki Gabereau show when Lane was on. Lane is an award-winning Canadian poet. He was an alcoholic. He went to a treatment centre after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and when he came out, he spent a year in his garden writing about his life and his drug and alcohol addiction. As he digs in his garden, he uncovers bottles of vodka everywhere. When I watched that show, I told myself, I want to read that book. I have already read Angela’s Ashes then and I related to Frank McCourt’s story because like his father, mine was an alcoholic, too. And now, I want to read the life of an alcoholic from his own perspective.
Lane is a gifted poet. And reading his prose is like reading a poem without trying to figure out what it means. I don’t have much tolerance for poems. His narration of his past are just as vivid and as colourful as his description of the plants and the interaction of bugs and animals in his garden.
Here are just some of the excerpts in the book to give you a few examples.
“I remember the bag of oranges breaking and the bright fruit falling. I can see my brothers running down the path in front of my father as the oranges bounded on ahead. They laughed as they followed the golden balls, picking up one and then another from among the fir cones and needles, desiccated ferns, and stones. I wanted to be with them. I squirmed in his arms and he laughed a great laugh and took me in his two huge hands and held me out in front of him. I wriggled, desperate to be put down. My brothers were far ahead of me on the path. They were stuffing oranges into their ragged shirts.”
“The birds ignore me as I cut the fallen leaves of the Japanese iris at the edge of the pond. The leaves splayed outward on the water are like the long hair a woman throws forward to dry in the sun. How beautiful the neck of my woman when the sun touches her hidden flesh. The irises have already begun to push up their first green spears. They’ll bloom in late spring, a spray of startled blue. They have no beard, just a thin stripe of gold on the curved petals.”
Lane writes about how his parents were both alcoholics. His mother gave him sips of whisky or beer when he was a small child and his father let him finish his last inch of beer. As a child, his body already craved alcohol. He also writes about how his brother died of cerebral hemorrhage and how “in his youth and confusion, he had nowhere to put his grief.” His brother’s death was followed by others and he turned to drugs and alcohol to escape the misery of life.
I’ve always wondered how my father became an alcoholic. Did his parents introduce him to alcohol? When did he start drinking? Was it just brought about by going out with his kumpares (friends) to these inuman (drinking) sessions?
There is this period of time that I wish I could go back to. This was the time after my father suffered a stroke. He was paralyzed from the neck down. I had been here in Canada for a little over a year. I came back home to see him, maybe for the last time, I thought. He was sent to his hometown in Atimonan, Quezon to be looked after by a cousin. I was staying in Manila then but I went down to Atimonan to spend a week with him before I flew back to Winnipeg. Only a week, when I was there in the Philippines for two months. I wish I could have spent more time with him, reminisce about the happier times of my childhood, get to know him again. Because I haven’t really spent that much time with him since he and my mother separated when I was 12. And maybe I could have asked him all these questions that were in my head. But I was distracted at that time. I was then struggling with a long distance relationship and I was trying to renew my relationship with a man who also loved his kumpares and his alcohol. But I didn’t realize it then. It was only years later after following the Dr. Phil show that I understood why I was with a man who was like my father.
“It’s hard to lift myself out of the past. I find I have to go back with a will toward remembering and so understand not only why I was alcoholic and sick but also who I am now that I am sober.”
“When I remember the past it is alive and it is as if it is dreaming me. Without the past I can’t learn to live in the unfolding present. This bit of history called the new millennium wants to forget, but forgetting means having to repeat everything that came before. While the past can be a burden, it is also a gift out of time. The clear moments of memory must be understood. It is only then they can be let go.”
Like Lane, I also find myself remembering the past, for the same reason that he states in his memoir. Yes, the past can be a burden, but at the same time, it helps me understand why things were the way they were, why I am the way that I am.
“This morning I found a full mickey of vodka tucked under the corner of the deck in the shade of the overhanging viburnum. My hands shook as I picked it up, doubly so because it was full. The weight of the clear glass bottle, its shape, the colour of its red cap, and the dense swirl of slight oiliness in the liquid made me feel I was holding an old and trusted friend. It was all I could do to carry it into the kitchen, break the seal, and watch the alcohol chug slowly down the drain. It was like watching both ambrosia and poison vanish at the same time. How my body yearned to drink it and how, at the same time, it rebelled against the thought.”
I know my father also tried to give up alcohol at least a couple of times after my mother left him. How hard he tried, I don’t really know. Because as soon as we thought that he’d change, there he was again out with his buddies and he’d come home drunk and wasted. I do understand now that alcoholism is a disease. It’s just too bad that at that time, treatment centres were not available yet back home.
“I am withdrawing from the scourge of forty-five years of drinking. Two months ago I stumbled into a treatment centre for alcohol and drug addiction. Now, I am barely detoxed. Standing here among the swordferns my senses seem to be thin glass, so acute at their edges I am afraid I will cut myself simply by touching the silicon edge of a bamboo leaf.”
There is something about Lane’s struggles that connects with me deeply. No, I’m not an alcoholic or drug abuser, nor was I ever one of those. The healing process that he went through is so familiar to me. In a way, I am also going through a healing process and I also feel that vulnerability. There are many other things in his life that I can relate to. I wish I could share them all here, but this post is already getting long. Maybe some other time.
Why do I keep writing about my ugly past? Why am I airing my dirty laundry? Yes, I’ve written about it a few times before. Isn’t that enough? But I come across these stories and I find a connection with them. These stories inspire me to also share my own story. I know that there are others who can also connect to my story.
“I begin to understand that when things fall apart it doesn’t mean they’re broken, it means they are forming themselves into other things.”
And I guess that is the message that I am trying to get across. Things change, so don’t lose hope.
By the way, gardeners might also enjoy reading this book because Lane describes his garden so beautifully and his gardening in such minutest detail.