It is a sunny afternoon in early December 2020 and I am talking to my therapist via facetime, describing how restless & desperate I have been; she asks about my dreams.
I am a bit taken aback.
An apparently meaningless one from 2 nights before pops immediately up.
“I was in a bakery, probably in Paris. I could see the Seine undulating through the store windows. In the refrigerated display, there were only two individual cakes left: A traditional apple tart, looking a bit sad, and next to it, a sour cherry tart.
Une tartelette aux griottes, my all-time favorite.
Yet, I bought the wonky Apple one, leaving behind the glistering Sour Cherry one.”
“Anyway, let’s move on…”
I am agitated & annoyed. The dream feels irrelevant in the scheme of what I am wrestling with: I want answers, solace for my unrest, guidance in this universal chaos, not chit-chat about a Parisian patisserie.
The weeks & months leading to that conversation had been excruciating.
Since March 2020, like countless others worldwide, I have been waking up every day to witness death & blatant injustice & in the US to experience absolute political & structural cruelty in the wake of the world pandemic. The racial unrests have torn me apart & prompted me to come to face the extend of my racism, biases, privileges & responsibilities in the world we live in.
Simultaneously, the two businesses that I had spent the past decade & a half building went inexorably, unpreventably under.
And yet, every morning, in the same breath, as I wake up & I hold this fragmented reality, I have been reminding myself over and over again how lucky & privileged I am. Privileged to be, along with my two boys, healthy, safe, and with abundant inner resources to apprehend what I must face individually & collectively.
The reality of my life & its rhythm has utterly shifted.
For the past 17 years, as a single parent raising two boys in NYC while running two restaurants, two things always seemed to be lacking or stretched to the max: money & time.
All of a sudden, the former vanished entirely & the latter expanded in the weirdest possible way. Specific daily worries & responsibilities that I had been carrying disappeared: Employees, logistics of running gatherings for up to 100 guests, pipes bursting, health department visits, cash-flow, wrong delivery, broken oven, fallen tree, all the 700 things that can happen and usually do occur within a day in a restaurant, stopped.
I closed down permanently one of my businesses, the café, as I did not want to put any of my employees at risk to serve food that I did not consider necessary or essential for my community’s survival.
One can live without a daily matcha almond milk latte (sorry, Gilles).
The other one, the Brownstone, had been put on hold, as its unique function is to gather people (not the ideal business model anymore in the current context).
And with that crystallization of things, that full stop of my businesses, silence came.
By November 2020, the full extent of what the past few months had meant descended upon me. I was on my knees, exhausted, depleted, disoriented.
Simultaneously, at a very intimate level, another reality had just shifted for me.
My younger son Lucas turned 18.
A beautiful, gentle soul, independent & responsible, he had managed to work his way to almost complete financial independence while finishing HS in June.
He just needed a few more months & then would be ready to fly solo.
His brother Théo, 20, had already been standing on his feet alone for a while.
And like this, all of a sudden, I felt I was “done” with the heavy lifting of solo parenting.
This is how I found myself, and without premeditation, on a late afternoon in November, in my rental apartment that I must leave soon, shredding & throwing away every single record that I had kept for the past decade & half, both personal & professional: divorce paper, restraining orders, invoices, financial projections, contracts, leases, etc.
Nothing was relevant anymore.
A full realization came then:
This was it.
That story was done.
The one I had told myself and others for so many years.
The story one builds as one goes through life, and then wearing it like a colorful coat, with patches held together by many stitches, each one informing the contiguous one, keeping the harmony, the structure for it all, in a swirl of seemingly seamless energy, a coat that fitted me somehow, a coat that was my identity, my life.
And then, garbage bags in hand & shredding machine on, something became very clear to me: Every single stitch of that coat had come undone, one way or the other, and the coat was gone.
I had nothing to wear.
Outside, the fall winds, the ones that announce the winter & the change of season, were raging with that distinctive hissing sound, in unison with the curve of the pandemic, ramping up, the number of death spiking to improbable height, only matching the incompetence & cruelty of our administration.
Inside my head, my heart, my belly, the same swirl, the same spikes, and some days, the same incompetence: I was restless.
At lost then, I started by doing what I know to do: I upped my routine.
I ran a boot camp out of my home: cardio, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, impeccable food routine, 3 l of water a day, 9 hours of sleep every night, boundaries around news input/social media (and yes, ok, yes, I watched the entire five seasons of Le Bureau des Légendes &, hum, Emily in Paris too… I don’t reach for ice cream during desperate times, but I do consume other forms of overly sweet unnourishing disjointing & dissociative junk…).
And despite (or maybe because) of all of that, I cried, I screamed, I wrestled myself to the ground, and whoever I was wrestling with won because eventually, I collapsed.
With that collapse, Quiet came in, pointing out how I had tried to fill up the silence with noise.
Nowhere to hide.
The narrative seemed to be running deeper than the sum of the multiple contiguous endings that I was experiencing.
Something was eluding me.
I had “on paper” enough to be sad, depressed, puzzled, disoriented, yet the texture of the feeling didn’t match the series of explanations that my brain was producing.
And I had to keep digging.
What on earth was I looking for?
I didn’t know.
If I knew, I would have known where to look…
I felt like I was standing on a deserted, endless beach, holding a heavy key in my hand when there was absolutely no door in sight.
And it is with that imaginary heavy key in hand, feeling deregulated, in early December, that I am face timing with my therapist: This woman has been in my life for the past 12 years and have witnessed, birthed, held, more than I could ever write to give justice to the instrumental role in my life she’s had and the fortitude of her spirit (neither is the word therapist the right way to describe her- a dear Mexican friend of mine used to refer to her as “La Curadora”- the Healer).
The flow of my words with her that day is like a torrent. She eventually interrupts to ask about my dreams.
As I proceed with the Apple & Cherry tarts, only to quickly dismiss all to come back to the present moment, she pulls me back forcefully.
“Not so fast, let’s stay with the dream for a minute, please.”
Her eyes are smiling so imperceptibly as she asks:
“Do you know why you picked the apple although the Cherry one is what you like best?”
I look at her & pause.
A long silence.
Somehow, I feel the weight of the imaginary key in my hand, and it feels that M. is pointing in the direction of a potential door.
I can’t put words on it.
What is happening?
My body is quicker to react than my brain. All at once, it feels alert & expensive.
My heart opens up. I feel it moving slightly in my chest, like a soft jolt.
The words are slow to match the shift inside, and they emerge from my belly:
“I picked the apple
because it is what people expect to find in any bakery at any time in France
because it is “safer” than a cherry one
because it is what everyone knows
because it is what people would expect me to choose
because it represents what most people are comfortable with & would default to automatically…”
A long pause again. I am looking through the window. I can feel the wind on my skin.
The system of 47 years of life unraveling in front of my eyes in slow motion in half a second.
The conscious ones…
And then the semi-conscious ones, the ones influenced by powerful narratives…
Choices none the less…
Mine & those of people around me…
All of this embedded in a personal structure.
47 years of life unraveling in front of my eyes in slow motion in half a second.
The intense unbalance of the household I grew up in, where everything revolved around a highly dysfunctional father.
The encounter, at age 18, of yet another highly dysfunctional man around whom I organized my life up until age 35, a man who became the father of my children.
And then my boys: not dysfunctional at all, yet 2 (other) men whom I raised alone, organizing every single thing in my life around their needs for the past 20 years, and for good reasons that I do not regret, with absolutely no support from their father, a daily reminder of the legacy of his dysfunctionality, including the business that I salvaged and then ran to provide for those boys.
Et puis voilà.
Tout d’un coup c’est fini.
Dans mon corps,
C’est comme un appel d’air.
Autour de moi,
Je vois des couleurs que je n’ai jamais vues.
M. brings it all home for me.
“Catherine, during your entire life, the agenda or legacy of a man always had priority over yours. And above it all, a particular way to lead your life seemed required of you to achieve what was expected of you as a single parent.
This is over.
You are done.
You can go for the sour cherry tart now.”
I sit in silence, listening between the words because all truth cannot be said, but all can be felt.
I let it trickle down inside me.
My jaw drops.
Inside my belly, there is an ocean: immense, clear, clean, calm.
The sensation is new, and yet, it feels like coming home: home to a place where I have never been and yet, one I can recognize.
It is utterly familiar; there is no question that I have been carrying that place inside me forever.
A wide smile on my lips turns into a burst of irrepressible laughter.
Home at last.
We talk a few more minutes, then dizzy & high, I hang up, feeling like I have won the lottery.
Now, hear me out here:
What is most potent here is not merely a feminist cry of liberation (although there is an obvious patriarchal piece in it) or a revelation of freedom.
It would be too reductive and constrict the understanding of my life into a very binary structure. It would elude the fact I have led my life for the past 12 years in a way that defied that logic and that I have integrated into my ecosystem more pieces than those available in that primitive logic.
What was striking at that moment was the shift, the actual realization of completion of a cycle, the identification of a series of patterns and realities.
And more than just seeing it & intellectually understanding it all, it was having the incredible moment of letting it change me physically and irreversibly alter my consciousness.
That “high” subdued after 36 hours.
It was not the destination but a unique and probably necessary step.
A new neuropathway had been created but to try to hold on to that energy would be like trying to capture a ray of sun in a wooden box: I would end up burning my eyes staring inside the box because, like the sun, that energy is not for anyone to possess.
The Cherry Tart revelation moment did not come to elate or empower but to bring discernment & connection, and probably for me, the ability to grief.
The enormous sadness that had choked me acutely for months, and as well maybe the one I had kept at bay for years, was finally able to flow in my body without me trying to wrestle it down or resist it.
And I cried.
I cried for so many lives lost.
The wind inside, the wind outside.
What became potent for me at this moment was how my internal tumult had mirrored the external one.
Or was it the external one that had mirrored my interior one?
Suddenly, it was clear that my losses were embedded in the losses of others.
And that the losses of others were embedded in mine.
My dream of a cherry tart was not just a mere epiphany about my upbringing, my childhood, my lack of choices as a single mother; it was the way I came to process how my surroundings had impacted my choices.
And how my choices had impacted my surroundings.
And how my choices had impacted my surroundings.
I will leave you with that.
There is no ending to that story.
Here is just a contemplation of the reverberance of the tumult within me & the outside chaos and how fractal it all felt.
How a dream, an image of a coat undone & the November winds collided together to help me make sense of my reality & of the reality afar and connect to it all, to stitch all it together.
Like my own, the coat that America had (not so carefully) weaved together has dramatically come undone.
There was probably never a better time for me to learn how to weave a new coat.
And this time, one that would not just fit me.
There is liberation in the descent.
Mc- Ch- Ts- Ls- Mg- Ad- Shdt