“Promise” by Barbara Sullivan
Age is the great unseen divider of souls—each from the other and from its own former selves—and at the same time, it’s the one commonality that can be counted on: we have only to wait a while and we understand everyone.
Time both speeds up and elongates as one ages—maybe relativity is somehow at work—and I feel close to the people I have loved and lost in a new way as I pass through the time of life they inhabited when we were together. I am merely one aging woman among many, one wave that is running out its unique curl, up, up from the sea. For a moment of shining transparency I have filtered the sky through my iridescent lens and then curled in on myself as if to capture it, playing myself out against the sand, casting my foam footprint ashore, perhaps being seen briefly by someone at a window as I am drawn back into the undertow.
Where will I have gone then, I wonder, and how is consolation to find me? I can’t quite picture the white-light tunnel with a robed figure like St. Peter or Shirley MacLaine waiting at the end with a beatific smile and cheery news.
I stand in the doorway of a small beach cottage on this grey Easter morning as rain fiercely pocks the roof, and a sharp gust of wind rushes in from the sea, spattering my face. As I breathe deeply, the air’s salty sting informs me that even my insides are surfaces on the world, that my whole being is built for interface, and that what I experience as self is mere surface tension. I am stretched taut for the instant of my life between two adjoining realities, a window between the tangible world and impalpable awareness.
When I look back into the cottage, the room takes on an Alice-in-Wonderland aspect, as if the chairs and table, as if the walls themselves are like me—solid, discrete, isolated objects and insubstantial at the same time, as if they might be conspiring illusions. A curious contentment descends as I consider the hovering objects suspended in this looking-glass world; I feel like some mysterious stranger has taken me by the hand and said Look, child!
Instead of pulling me into some well-lit heaven, God turns me around again, peering through me into this darkened world from outside of the time that heals all wounds, yearning through me like a lover inflamed by loneliness and longing, whispering fiercely, like the roar of this stormy surf, how much we matter—reminding me that my calling as a woman is to witness, and as a writer, to testify.
I glance out at the flat expanse of ocean lying like a swath of charcoal above stair-step waves on this greyest of grey days, and unexpectedly the sun slips a brightline spectrum through slate, a brilliant quicksilver signature precisely at the horizon, lying on the water like a promise.
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Barbara Sullivan Artist Statement:
I’ve pinballed my way through life, going down several dark holes in the process but so far
managing to stay in the game. Along the way, I collected a BA in art in the sixties and an
MFA in fiction thirty years later, while my real career consisted mostly of putting arms into
sleeves, food into mouths, money into envelopes, and headstones into the ground. Along
more conventional lines, my writing has been supported by some generous grants; I was
an editor at Northwest Review and am still an independent book editor and consultant.
The work nearest to my heart, though, has been teaching writing for a community college
Women in Transition program, for which I edit and publish a journal of amazing student
writing; nearly every term for twelve years, someone has told a story in one of my classes
that they have never told anyone before.