Chronic Illness, Guest Posts

Floors and Phantasms

May 6, 2024

I never used to think about floors that much. You raise walls and a ceiling and then the floor is unavoidably there. Floors are way stations we are always trying not to use, forever picking up socks that never seem to make it from feet to laundry bin without a break in between. Floors are perpetual works-in-progress, at any given moment requiring sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, or tidying so that, although they are arguably the most settled parts of our homes, they’re never quite settled at all. Floors are places where things are not supposed to be, but also where everything is, which is something I think about when I’m spending a lot of time on mine.

I understand why socks will not be denied their sojourn on the floor. I had been missing the form for the function while socks had been enjoying the forest for the trees. The floor is a big picture sort of place (after all, it was there from the beginning, the walls and ceiling are added details) and its form begets a cosmos. For example, there is a spot on my floor where a bit of jam has discovered a world unimaginable from behind the walls of a jar. With sticky tendrils deployed, the jam catches dog fur tumbleweed, which brings along pocket lint, and, when an errant raisin arrives, the jam has built itself a community of diverse travellers, when it had only known other jam before.

I spend the most time on my kitchen floor. It’s not a preference, there’s just an extra gravity in kitchens that feels sometimes as if it was created just for me. Of course, I’m not special, I’m just sick. And I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it does feel like I’m stuck in a tragedy every time I lose myself staring into the fridge like a thirsty sailor gazing at the undrinkable ocean. Knees buckle, spine falls, breath leaves, and hope escapes until I turn my head and find jam, and then I remember I am only trapped on the floor if I let myself be.

People would prefer that I not be on the floor. They are discomforted by my discomfort. They suggest places where bodies are supposed to be, like beds, or couches, or bathtubs; but they don’t understand that I am uncomfortable everywhere. And the floor, unlike a bed, or a couch, or a bathtub, is always there. Besides, it’s not so bad, lost in the in between, taking refuge at the way station.  Settled or unsettled doesn’t matter in twilight purgatory, where grey is soft instead of dull and time is neither stopped nor moving. The floor is where things are not supposed to be and neither am I but, also, neither was the jam.

Here’s something you can try on your own floor. Lay your cheek flat against it and imagine that your ear is a mussel’s foot, holding you fast so you won’t get carried off by a wave. Listen for the messages that are stored there, having bubbled up from the earth below. Messages that have come from everywhere, tapped out by feet on the other side of the world or carried by roots from the park across the street. It is profound to think that all our floors connect to the earth and the earth connects to everything. These ordinary, taken-for-granted places are, in fact, portals to anywhere we want to go.

It was on the floor that I discovered that there is a portal inside me too. If the floor can build worlds with jam, dog fur, pocket lint, and raisins, I can build a world with the small things at my disposal too. These little things are called phantasms, and you also have them. They are the things you see with your mind’s eye; they are your imagination; they are in your head. And the floor promotes adaptation, so I call mine Phantasmavision. Phantasmavision is what happens when you nominate yourself the conductor of an orchestra of electricity and synapses. You might call this “daydreaming,” but, please, let me have this one, because calling it “Phantasmavision” makes my time on the floor feel important. It’s one thing to write a symphony in your head that only you will hear, it’s a slightly less depressing thing to tell yourself that you’ll write it all down one day.

On Phantasmavision, I am the manic pixie of my very own dreams. I am in a rock band, I am a poet, I am a professor, I have been to the moon and survived the apocalypse and you can call me, “Barbie.” I have lived a thousand lives and loved a thousand loves. I am not sick or broken. On Phantasmavision, the only correct answer is, “yes, and…”. Yes, I will write a novel in a Parisian cafe, and I’ll be a veterinarian in a small town by the sea. Yes, I will grow old with my high school sweetheart, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and I’ll spend my life floating from one love affair to the next, never staying in one place long enough to be missed. Yes, I will pursue a career that interests me, and I’ll be able to afford a reasonable standard of living. Each fantasy played to perfection by an improv troupe made up of only the parts of myself that I like.

On Phantasmavision, I am me, but better, and this hurts more than my sharp bones against a cold floor. It can be dangerous to have a portal inside you, because what happens when you start to like the version of yourself that lives in your imagination more than the one that lives in your body? What happens when the world that feels the most like home is a place you can’t show anybody else? It is an isolating thing, to be sick, but I can’t blame illness for the solitude I choose. I worry that Phantasmavision is not an adaptation at all, but a vice and I get angry at myself for not being able to get up from the floor.

But what if I could show you Phantasmavision? What if, instead of just phantasms, I told my stories aloud, whispering them to the floor? If I did that, would you listen? Would you get down on your floor and whisper something back? If you knew the me that has lived a thousand lives and loved a thousand loves, then maybe I could be real both when I am made of phantasms and when I am made of bones.

I’m not sure why I’ve told you all of this. Maybe I’m wondering if you’re on your floor too. I think I’d like to see your Phantasmavision, if you wanted to show me. I can get to you, through the portal in my floor, if you beat your coordinates like little tremors through the earth. I have sticky tendrils like jam, and I don’t care what sort of forgotten, not-supposed-to-be-there kind of crumb you are.

So, I’ll be telling and listening, ear pressed to the floor and thinking about the sea. I’ll tell so that I will no longer be alone, neither on the floor, nor in my head, and I’ll listen so that neither are you.

Caity Goerke (she/her) is a lawyer, a grad student, and a comedian. She is new to sharing her writing and hopes that giving voice to her experiences of chronic illness and disability will inspire others to do the same. She is a queer-feminist-socialist and Irish-German settler living on the stolen Indigenous territories of the Coast Salish peoples. Most importantly, Caity is a swamp witch who grows in power every time she makes a man cry.


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