Darkness Is a Cannibal

I remember walking up the stairs to Robert’s apartment, determined to end the hateful stalemate that was immoveable, static, a mountain or a moon, and I walked up the stairs trembling and I would end it. I would end it if I died.

I remember most of it like snapshots, the way you remember things that happened when you were a very small child.

I remember the police walking up to our door, and why? Could it have been just because my daughter Abbie was at my house and her dad, Robert, was angry about that? It seems unreasonable, but then everything was unreasonable.

I remember opening the door to them, the way they stood back, one on each side of the door, hands hovering over their holstered guns. One officer asked, “Do you have any weapons?” and I answered, “We’re Mennonite,” a ridiculous answer for what felt like a ridiculous question.

I remember my stepson taking his little brother into his room, trying to protect him from seeing police in the house, and is that a memory, or is it a hope? The police said we may not close any doors, and that may be invention, too. I was underwater, breath held, heart paused, and one officer asked Abbie, “Are you OK to be here? Are you safe here?” and she glared (did she?) over his shoulder and said yes, yes, she was safe, she was fine, and they asked to see papers. They wanted to look at papers with signatures and official seals: is she mine? Is this girl flesh of my flesh? Is she my heart, my soul, my waking and dreaming life and all the hopes and heartaches I have lived? Did a judge, a lawyer, some official person declare her to be so?

Many days or weeks before, but maybe after, I called my son Jacob. It was December, his 18th birthday. “I never have to see you again, Mom. I’m never going to talk to you again. I don’t have to anymore and you can’t make me,” and the world was flat and I was flat and you were flat, too, and the phone burned to dust and someone was there, but who? Who was there? Someone held the parts together because the parts stay together and life goes and we are not flat, except we are. We are flat and so very, very sad.

Later, but not much later because I was leaning against the window in my bedroom and the window was very cold, and I rested my forehead against it and felt the coldness and the coldness kept me tethered to the flat, flat world, and Jacob was on the phone, in my ear, and his voice came out to me but it was carrying his father’s words. I don’t know most of the words anymore. I heard them 1,000, or 10,000, or maybe 1,000,000 times, if you count how often I heard them while I slept and when I made dinner and while I drove, but I don’t remember all of them. I heard them on a little silver flip-phone, and over a Palm Centro, and on a Droid X, and on a Samsung Note and occasionally even face to face. I heard them and they stabbed me all over, each one a tiny piercing needle and I cried until I was a husk of corn, stripped, withered, ugly. Wasted. Useless.

I remember walking up the stairs to Robert’s apartment, determined to end the hateful stalemate that was immoveable, static, a mountain or a moon, and I walked up the stairs trembling and I would end it. I would end it if I died. I would end it if he killed me. I hoped he would kill me. I hoped he would kill me 9 times and burn me down, flat me on the flat earth in the emptiness of life without them. I would die, I would hurt and I would die and it would be so right, so holy, a most perfect thing. I would not live without them anymore. I would not look outside to see some official person with a weapon or a clipboard come to decide about me. I would not watch for the cars with the official seals on them because he hoped I would lose not just the two children we shared, but my other children as well. I would not cry myself to sleep Jacob Abbie I want you I miss you life is empty everything hurts come home come home come home to me I love you so much and I’m flat and everything is burning and still I go to the grocery and pay the gas bill and watch cartoons with your brothers and where is the ground? Why does it buck and curl under my feet this way? I can’t love you this way. I can’t. I can’t. I’m flat. We’re all so flat; there’s nothing but the hate he cultivated and the hate has made us all flat.

I remember hearing my husband murmur to our youngest son, “Stay here with me. Mommy has to cry for awhile, but she’ll be OK,” and our little boy’s voice, angry, asking, “Why are they so mean? Why don’t they come back? Don’t they love us?” and I covered my head with pillows.

I remember walking up those apartment stairs the most. Crumbling concrete stairs, itchy gray wool socks on my feet, and a mild Albuquerque winter day, and I knocked on the door. Robert came to the door and I was ready. I would push my way in, force an end, stop the stalemate and surely one of us would die or sleep that night in a jail cell, but I would end it. I would breech this unbreechable thing with a broken jaw or a pair of handcuffs. Finally, I would see it through to the end.

All those times when he sent official people to my door: nod, nod, no sir, no weapons, yes ma’am, we have food in the kitchen, see? No sir, we don’t spank, yes ma’am we have a pediatrician. We are good, do you have that in your official papers? I am their mother, do you see here where the judge signed? Do you see where some official person with an important title said that these are people I have permission to love? Do you see this seal? This date stamp? This envelope, this name, this signature? I have no weapons, nothing useful except this phone, this hateful phone and these ears to hear and these eyes to see and my regret to keep me awake at night.

But the memories. I remember opening the door, so many times. I remember answering the phone. I remember mistakes, recriminations, allegations, and the cold, cold window against my forehead, and the world dark on the other side, and darkness is a cannibal and hate is a ravenous monster and they ate connection, cohesion, coherence, and left me with these snapshots. I moved the mountain. I breeched the unbreechable, and when I celebrate, I also cry, and I am more whole and more broken, both. I read and sleep and walk and wish that Robert could hurt, and pray to forgive. Forgive him, forgive them, forgive the nameless others, forgive me.

Because I always opened the door.

Happy Birthday, Abbie

You have a baby, and everybody tells you, “Enjoy it; it goes so fast!” and you’re enjoying it, but you’re also living the day-to-day blur of diapers, sippy cups, lullabies, preschool decisions, homework help, and curfew arguments, and then one day you realize that all those people were right. It goes so fast. Faster than you could have imagined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it’s not sad. Sure, it’s a little bittersweet, because once upon a time this girl, my Abbie, was milk-drunk and heavy in my arms. She was a flurry of opinions, a blizzard of words, a soft request for me to rock her, to read her a book while she went to sleep. She was a halo of ginger curls over wildly pumping legs when she ran to meet me at the end of her preschool day. But it’s not sad because Abbie is still Abbie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’s 18 today. 18! It’s been a long time since she asked me to rock her to sleep and those ginger curls submit to the application of chemicals and appliances, but she is herself. She could never be anyone but herself, and she is extraordinary.

Happy birthday, girlie. I love you big big big.

The Transcendent Familiar 7: Choking on the Ashes

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 3.1 (except it’s less of a part and more of an interlude)
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
If you haven’t read parts 1-6, that’s OK. This one stands pretty well all by itself.

Peek with me into a house and observe the family therein.

There’s the dad, young and handsome, laughing at two tiny children who are splashing and playing in the bath.

There’s the mom, also young, and she would be pretty if she didn’t look so tired and puffy, getting small jammies out of dresser drawers.

The dad lifts the older of the two children out of the bath and towels him off. The boy runs across the hall and into the bedroom where the mom is waiting. He flings his tiny body onto his bed, howling, “To infinity…and beyond!”

“Silly boy!” the mom says, and she reaches for him, pajamas at the ready, and he grabs her arms, pulling her to the bed with him.

“Read Sam, Mommy! Can we read Sam?”

“Again? Jacob, we have tons of books! Let’s read a different book, OK?”

“No,” and the little boy shakes his head firmly. “Read Sam.”

“OK,” the mom sighs, “but jammies first.”

The little girl comes in then, all pink pudge and halo of ginger hair. She climbs onto her brothers bed, imitating his shouts with her own, “Ifity! To ifity!”

They are beautiful children—healthy and exuberant and sweet. The mom puts a diaper on the little girl and helps both children with their pajamas. She reads Green Eggs and Ham while the boy sucks on two of his fingers and the girl sucks on her binky.

The mom tucks the little boy into his bed while the dad tucks the little girl into hers. They pass each other in the hall, switching rooms so that she can kiss the little girl and he can kiss the little boy.

The dad goes to the couch in the living room and turns on the television. The mom moves past him, to a desk in the den where she turns on a computer. She connects to the internet and spends an hour on UseNet, reading and responding to messages on boards about depression, marriage, politics, and parenting.

At 8:00, her husband appears in the doorway. “Hey, you wanna get it on?” he asks, and she turns to him, fear and disgust plain on her face.

“I…” she begins, but he interrupts her.

“God, you make me sick. How do you think we’ll save this marriage if you won’t give me the one thing I want? Why the fuck would I want to touch you, anyway? Look at yourself! Look at you!”

She does. She looks down at her stained shorts and sloppy t-shirt and her face is desperate and despondent for a moment. She slumps in her chair.

“Jesus, you don’t even try,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s a good thing the people in that goddamn computer can’t see you or they’d tell you to go fuck yourself.”

“Like you’re any better,” she says, standing and moving toward him. “What the hell is that? Wanna get it on? Is that… what? Romance? Love? You haven’t said two words to me since you came home from work!”

“Whatever. I’m sick of talking to you. Why don’t you just get the fuck out? If you won’t have sex with me there’s no point. Just go away.”

“Fine,” she says. “I’ll get the kids.”

“Like hell you will! You won’t take my kids out of this house!” he shouts, and one of the children cries out. He blocks the woman’s path so that she can’t go down the hall to the bedrooms.

“I’m taking the kids!” she screams at him. “Move!”

He laughs at her, shoves her backwards into a bookshelf. She looks stunned as books and photos thump to the floor. He is nearly nose to nose with her, shouting, “Those kids are mine. I’ll tell the judge you’ve been in the nut hatch and you’ll never see them again! You could just kill yourself right now and no one would give a shit. You’re crazy! Fat and crazy! You disgust me!”

There is another cry from one of the children. The woman makes another attempt to push her way past her husband and he shoves her again. This time she lands on the floor atop the books and photos.

She sees the phone amid the clutter and grabs it, running for the back door as she dials. “Dad?” she says into the phone, stepping onto the back patio. “I need you to come over right now.”

She waits on the back patio until she hears her dad’s truck in the driveway. Walking through the house she sees her husband, still standing sentry near the opening to the hallway. “My dad is here,” she says.

He shakes his head and smirks at her a little, then sits down on the couch and turns on the TV.

When her dad comes into the house, the mom picks up the children, one in each arm, and takes them to the car. She buckles them into their seats and drives the six blocks to her parents’ house. She sings the children back to sleep then lays, listening to her babies’ breath, until dawn. She does not cry.

At breakfast, her parents ask her, “What happened?”

“Just a fight,” she says.

“You should go home after we eat,” her mom says, “before it turns into a big deal.”

“Yeah,” says her dad, “the longer you wait the more uncomfortable it will be.”

And so she does.


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What else could I write?
I don’t have the right.
What else should I be?
All apologies.

Withouting

For context, you might want to read this first.

You know what sucks about being sad? Besides the sadness, I mean.

It’s the all-consumingness of the thing.

(Spell checker doesn’t care much for the word consumingness, to which I say get over yourself, spell checker! I have bigger problems than you!)

No, what really sucks about being sad is the way it uses up all my energy to live my life around it. Do the laundry without getting overwhelmed by the fact that none of Jacob’s and Abbie’s clothes are here to be washed. Make dinner without crying into the soup because Jacob and Abbie are almost never here to eat with us. Watch TV/read a book/go to the movies without becoming despondent because I don’t know what Jacob and Abbie like to read and watch. Enjoy the family who is here without succumbing to obsession over who is not here.

That’s a whole lot of withouting.

The thing is, when life goes really, really wrong—when it diverges dramatically from even the vaguest expectations—the disorientation is powerful. Up? Down? Where? Who? Gravity works sideways and the sky turns bile green. Eating makes me hungry and sleeping makes me tired.

But then, worse, is sometimes I’m OK. Or worse yet, I’m happy.

What kind of mother is happy when her children have rejected her so violently?

I won’t answer that. I won’t touch the question, because I know it’s OK for me to be happy. I know I won’t save my relationships with Jacob and Abbie with my misery, but some primitive part of me rebels. The same mother-instinct that compelled me to respond when my babies cried; to protect Abbie from the girls who bullied her in 3rd grade; to find Jacob on that awful night last year when no one knew where he was; insists that I must stay unhappy. That instinct is hard-wired, fundamental, and very, very hard to resist.

Worse, what if writing brings me joy, but I believe I don’t deserve joy? What if I think I deserve to be punished?That instinct is also a piece of what keeps me away from my computer and the stories I love to write. How can I write about the latest news in pediatric mental illness, or that funny thing Brian said, or my grandma’s story of the time her sister was hit by a car, if I can’t think of anything but Jacob and Abbie?

What a tangled, ugly knot. The woman with the letters after her name says I should try that thing people in 12-step programs do: act as if.

Does it hurt that I’m alienated from Jacob and Abbie? Fuck yes it hurts. But what if, for part of everyday, I acted as if it didn’t? What if I just set the pain aside for awhile and let myself think about something else?

Do you think the sky would be blue again?

Grief Is an Emotional Tsunami and Integrity Sucks but Being Syndicated at BlogHer Is Pretty Cool so I’m Calling Today a Wash

I was doing pretty good.

No, really. I was. Not great; after a many-months long depression, I wouldn’t expect to bounce back to some kind of happy-chirpy version of myself. No only would that be unrealistic, but everyone who knows me would be bug-eyed with confusion and amazement, so that sounds a little freaky.

I’m not happy-chirpy under any circumstances. It’s the reason I’ve never had a job waiting tables.

Oh, also? I turned 40, which was hard for a few months but by the time my birthday came I was totally OK with it. I’ve always been too old for my age (not as in cool and worldly, but in that certain ultra-serious way that teachers love and other kids despise), so in a sense, I’ve been waiting around for 40 years to be the right age for myself.

So anyway, I was doing pretty good. I decided to declutter my house and deal with the dust bunnies and cobwebs, both literal and metaphorical, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. Carter and I sat in the sun to read books and my grandma finally has some new bottom teeth (she lost the old ones which made lunch an interesting affair) and we made chicken on the grill and life was moving along, much improved.

Then? A bump. Shaped, unsurprisingly, like my eldest two children and their father. The insult on the injury is the sliver of integrity I cling to lest I never sleep again. That damn integrity is like an internal Nurse Ratched that prevents me from spilling the whole sordid story right here.

Damn.

I think that on my eightieth birthday, I will quit both integrity and flossing. Stay tuned. I expect it to be very exciting.

In the midst of today’s scab-of-grief tearing pain, one of my recent posts is syndicated over at BlogHer, which is very cool. Come over, say hello, and tell me you love me.

Even if you don’t, tell me anyway.