Reading for Banned Books Week began with procrastination and diverted attention. It was yesterday when I started my first re-reading of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
The year in which I read McMurphy's story is a date I no longer remember, unlike 1066 which our 10th grade history teacher told us was the most significant date of all we would learn from him. Whenever the Battle of Hastings is the answer on Jeopardy!, I'm your girl.
The date has slipped into the undulating present/past where my life is warehoused, and the time of reading is of no consequence. The movie was released in 1975. With my then-husband and four friends in our $250, 1963 Cadillac sedan deville, perfect in every respect unless you count things like gaskets and moving engine parts, we rolled from Oxnard to Westwood where the first-run features were shown. I digress.
My discomfort started with the first page. True, when we know how a story ends we are able to read the signs differently. I think, though, it was more Kesey's ability to show us the life-filled expanse that is McMurphy which set up the creeping dread, the foreshadowing of dubious battle between a system which we understand from the very start and the embodiment of all I believe spirit to be.
The unease, I realized, was also caused by my having, 20 years ago, been told that depression was part of why I wasn't recovering from pneumonia as I should, why chronic fatigue had joined the team, and that action was required. Roughly 12 years ago, it had to be admitted - the depression was life-long, it had always been there. If one had been dipped in a vat of indigo 65 years ago, left to cure but eventually scrubbed and soaked every day so the tint seemed to fade until it might be thought a trick of the light, that is where my depression resides. It is treated, it has diminished, I have risen, its stain lingers.
Too much identification, too much terror, reading of the day room population, the Acutes and the Chronics, the treatments gone wrong or considered successes. I don't know if I am willing to read the book again, to feel and know and fear the places that grace kept me out of.
That any of us do more than spend our days walking in circles seems miraculous. We are, over any span of time, in equal measure thinner than a moth's wings and undefeatable as a fire hydrant. One day we need, or at least long for, shelter behind an arm wielding a broadsword, then moments later become willing to fight, with words of tongue and pen, city hall, the Social Security administration or any part of the machine that gives us the stink eye. We are fragile and bold, sagging and strong, confused and determined. I'd love to see sportscasters diagram the plays from one day of ordinary human existence.
Things which once seemed certain to us have become, oh understatement, less so. Yet despair is not an option which holds the chance of a good outcome. I begin my days with the intention of optimism, I can only discuss politics for ever-shorter intervals and avoid most of the news, seeking weather forecasts - discouraging in their own right last week - then skating away.
The membrane is too vulnerable, it tears with so little force. My heart - the literal and the metaphor - carries scars as do yours. I'm not sure it could withstand McMurphy's journey without paying too high a price, even knowing what I know about the Chief. I feel like a fair-weather friend and want to apologize for not being there to see him through. Tomorrow the balance may seem less precarious. Tomorrow there may be fierce tears and kicking ass. Tomorrow my courage may make me invincible, but that's tomorrow, not today.