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Saint Claire by Diana Heald

Photograph of purple flowers and green leaves. Words in white super-imposed over the photo say "SAINT CLAIRE by Diana Heald"

Purple Hellebore, the Lenten Rose, dusty, dusk-like, was growing in the small mulch-filled beds of Brooklyn Heights before I thought to think of spring. I noticed it on my walk to the doctor. Lent is a time of waiting. I did not grow up Catholic.

In the spring of 2020, I spent six weeks alone. I passed the time making hellebores out of paper, shaping rounds of tissue into bowing bells. I turned 34 toasting my friends through a Zoom screen. My cousin had a bottle of wine delivered to the house; it stained my teeth deep purple.

This year, it felt correct to feel sick in the winter when all the world was dead around me and I felt that way too. It feels less so now that the first flowers are out. I had no plans to have to embrace such ongoingness.

Saint Claire is the patron saint of eyes, anxiety, and screens, including the television. You might ask, as I did, how a woman who died in 1253 became the patron saint of television. Toward the end of her short life, unable to attend mass, she saw and heard the service, nevertheless, projected on the wall of the room where she lay ill.

To see and hear what is not there are symptoms of complex migraines, though for me the sounds and images are empty of meaning. Lights flash and distort; sounds blend and blur. For three months, my doctor insisted the migraines were caused by anxiety. I bought a Saint Claire candle from a Bushwick witch; on the worst migraine days, its flame cast a 10-foot trail of light across my retina as I lay in pigeon pose on the floor, trying to be calm.

I vomited while attending a Zoom class, tranquil as the first day of spring. It was something about the screen. I had my eyes checked.

Now one doctor thinks I have binocular vision dysfunction in addition to the migraines; my eyes and brain no longer communicate well, which causes me to see double, which causes vertigo, which causes anxiety. The semantics of cause and effect are only important to me, important because I am tired of doctors telling me to relax, to try deep breathing, when all along my eyes were broken and nobody saw. Being stuck in this system is what makes me anxious now.

Recently, I have started to pray, not because I believe in God, but because of the rabbi who, when asked about prayer, laughed: “Do you think God cares? Prayer is for you.” I am trying to give the things I cannot change to someone else to hold.

Catholics pray to Saint Claire for better weather. Her name means clear and bright.

I was born in the spring; I have grown to expect my rebirth with the first tulips and daffodils. When the Lenten Rose fades, I want to stop waiting to be well. It only occurs to me now that this may have more to do with accepting being ill than with expecting miracles.


Diana Heald is a current second-year Nonfiction MFA candidate at Columbia University based in Brooklyn, New York.

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