The Toad Woman
I saw the toad woman yesterday. I would have said I met her, but I didn’t really. She didn’t talk. In a way I guess she presented herself to me. I had never seen her before. Something in me knew she existed, but either she was buried too deep to come out or I was avoiding her. Probably some of both. In any case, I can’t figure out what her appearance means. Hello or goodbye? She only faced me for a few moments. I was so startled by the charred skin and coal eyes that I almost turned away in that kind of instant forgetfulness one achieves when one chooses to ignore that which is suddenly clear. Then she briefly showed me her back before moving out of sight and I realized who she was.
It just goes to show how filled with the unknown my country is. The country I thought I had mapped, diligently, honestly, bravely trekking its vastness and intricacy in my most comfortable shoes.
The Toad Woman Again
Across the floor her hand snakes toward me, inviting my attention. She is black all over. Not the beautiful black of the African, but a charred and burning black. The black of too much experience in too short a time, as if life was dumped through the back of her head and the fire had nowhere to go. She is the Toad Woman. My Toad Woman in fact.
She has never stayed so clearly before me and perhaps if I look at her long enough I will not be afraid. I know she has much to give me, but it is so hard, so hard to hold my hand steady in the face of her pain. Our pain. Yes, I can feel it now, beating between our palms, freezing me there as she is frozen. Is she marking me or erasing a mark? Some long ago scar that I have chosen to ignore at my own peril? Or am I marking her? Finally claiming her as mine, telling her to come home? I sense that we are dancing, suspended above all these questions, for in the end it is the simple act of contact that matters.
Sometimes when I have breathed particularly well she tickles my solar plexus with such gentle hands that my tears rush out of me and I am unable to comprehend their source.
Sometimes she jumps upon my head, feet on my shoulders, fingers clutched in my hair, her weight a hurricane, spinning me in on myself until I collapse with sudden emotion.
She tells me these things now and I think I can vaguely remember the smell of smoke.
She has been a ghost to me. She has been a shadow in my nightmares. She has been my monster. But I see that it is I who, like a torch-bearing mob, confined her there, condemning her blindly to madness because of my fear. Our fear. Yes, I feel that, too, and I will run from it no longer. It is time for us to marry our fears and send them on their way.
I think she hears me because our clasped hands have expanded unnoticed into an embrace. Her cheek is as soft as old things recalled from years away, soft enough to be warped and distorted by the pressure of my mind, but I do not wish to change her anymore. I want to learn what she really looks like. I want to see where she lives in me, sit down, have dinner, help with the dishes. I want to be her friend.
The Toad Woman looks again into my eyes. Perhaps we will always burn, she says.
(I wrote these pieces years ago. I never understood exactly what I was talking about, but sometimes that’s the best way to get to the truth. While reading Getting To Know Thyself by fellow blogger listentomethunder, I had a sudden flash of recognition. Is The Toad Woman my Shadow? I think she is …)