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Alone Together: A response to Dream Dances Dec 9, 2017

by Natalie Singer

Photo: Stefano Altamura

 

A few days ago I had a car accident. Once we collided gently (no one was injured) we pulled to the side of the road and began the dance of assessing damage and exchanging information, reaching around for insurance cards and snapping photos on our phones. The woman I hit wore a poppy-hued coat and her black hair shone in the winter sun, the same sun that had obscured her from the corner of my eye as I took liberties with right on red. For ten minutes or so we were then forced into a relationship, and despite my embarrassment at the fender-bender I found that I quickly became invested in the woman’s well-being. ‘I’m not sure what we even do now,’ she said after stepping out of her car. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘Here’s what we do.’ Suddenly instead of being two humans on parallel planes, we began to move in unison.

 

I have been thinking lately that the current between wilderness and loneliness is like the vacancy sign of an old motel along a sparse highway, the sound of electricity zapping from its box up a wire to the flickering neon sign, dzt dzt dzt in the frigid air.

 

Once when I was a young child I was taken on a field trip with my class to a quarry. Maybe they wanted to show us where minerals come from and how we retrieve and manipulate them. The quarry was far outside the city in a forest, a large empty hollow of rock, its middle gaping down into a tunneling darkness. We hiked the circumference of the quarry on a narrow path and eventually reached a place where water poured from above over a ledge and into the quarry’s center hole. We were instructed to walk underneath the waterfall, over wet and slippery rock. This was the moment I realized that I would die at some point, that I was alone on the earth.

 

Something I learned after giving birth is that breastmilk has more force than you imagine. When the mother receives a cue that her baby is hungry, or even when she remembers she has a baby, the provider instinct kicks on and milk surges through the breast ducts. This is called letdown. The physical feeling of this gush of liquid is not painful, it’s more of a tingle like when your foot falls asleep. A jolt of electricity underneath the skin. After I put my beautiful baby to the breast another feeling would wash over me, an incalculable loneliness, a sense of swimming at the deepest bottom of an ocean. A fear I could not name or excavate.

 

The night of the day I had the accident, I thought about the woman in the poppy coat. Where was she, while I soaked in my tub, rubbing my slightly sore neck? Was she cradling the baby who belonged in the cart seat that was luckily empty when we gently collided? Was she holding her baby to the curve of her breast, a mother’s voltage lighting up tissues and cells? I thought I might see the woman in my dreams, but when I woke the next morning I remembered nothing and thought of my favorite quote as a child: “The world doesn’t seem such a howling wilderness as it did last night.”
 

 

Natalie Singer-Velush is a Seattle journalist, editor, and the author of the memoir California Calling: A Self-Interrogation (March 1, 2018). Twitter: @Natalie_Writes

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