The prompt this time was a guided visualization. I ask everyone to get in a comfortable, seated position, feet on the floor, and close their eyes. Then I guide them through a breathing exercise and ask them to relax their limbs, starting with their toes and ending with their neck, head, and fingertips. Once they are in a relaxed state, I place them (or a character they are working with) in a specific place: the top of a flight of stairs, in front of a gate, on the shore of a large body of water, or in this case, somewhere high.
What I wrote is below.
Don’t write about the dying plant, or the essay assignment you have to revise, the exercise schedule you need to keep. The prompt asks you to go somewhere high, but you first have to get grounded.
Two feet on the ground and you’ll lower your blood pressure, the nurse said: two feet on the ground. The hospital, the blood lab, the new phlebotomist. “I’m in training,” he said, his hands shaking slightly. “I’m being observed. Are you comfortable with that?” Everybody’s gotta learn sometime, right? And I’m always looking for another chance to practice compassion, so sure, stab me here, where the big blue vein is. Take two vials of the purple dark blood. I’m always amazed that’s inside of me.
Don’t write about the wasted morning, the $100 grocery bill, the man/boy who says he just wants to cuddle, write about somewhere high. Can you go back there again? Mount Diablo, the green and yellow spring, the winding roads, the clear rushing creeks below. You and Mama, and Baron in the back seat, his big tongue, his pink panting excitement, the summit still thirty minutes away. Eleven a.m. and the mountaintop was yours, no one else around as you took her hands and guided her, walked backwards up the short flight of steps. “One more. Step up. That’s right.” Baron flying up and down the steps ahead of you, behind you, beside you.
At the top, the locked tower, a wraparound deck. The Sierras on the horizon, snow-capped. “Look how beautiful,” Mama said, even when words were hard for her to come by. The cumulous clouds casting shadows over the valley below, light traveling in great patches. The San Francisco skyline with the familiar white triangle of the Transamerica building. That spring before the awful drug that left her in a wheelchair, that spring before you began college, the tearing away that individualism requires, the adult day care, the guilt of becoming your own person.
Before all that or this little life of dying plants and overgrown yards, of new cars and new debt, of text-message flirtations and the battle of the bulge. Just a mountaintop, a loyal dog, a woman with dementia (too young, all of them, too young) and the view. Hawks sailing overhead. The whole world green.