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.

Graduate

Jacob called me on a Friday morning a few weeks ago and asked, “Hey Mom, can you come pick me up at Job Corps? Like, now?”

Job Corps, where Jacob has been living and studying for the past year, is a federally funded education and training program for people ages 16-24. Students earn a high school diploma or GED and train for a career, all at no cost to the students or their families. It’s a great program for lots of reasons, and I’m sure it works for different students in different ways, but for Jacob it’s been perfect because he needed some independence from his family but he wasn’t ready to be on his own. Job Corps provided a bridge between family dependence and independence.

I drove across town to pick him up, and there I found a sturdy, confident young man surrounded by luggage and wearing a hardhat and tool belt.

In his backpack, he was carrying his diploma, the verification of one of the many things he has accomplished in the past year.

Once upon a time, when I was not much older than Jacob is now, I wanted to have a baby, and that baby has taught me more about myself and this world and God than almost any other person on this planet.

I learned early on that there are almost no joys in life so great as seeing one’s child feel proud of himself for an accomplishment that has been hard-earned, and Jacob has had much to be proud of, being born as he was with a tremendous will to conquer. When he was two, he decided that he would learn to turn a perfect somersault, and he did nothing but turn somersaults for two days until he could do them with ease. Likewise, when he thought it was time to learn to ride a bike, he ignored banged-up knees and scraped palms and tried, tried, tried with determination until he rode without a wobble.

When we went for our tour of Job Corps and one of the teachers told the gathered group of potential students, “We’ll try to help you every way we can, but lots of kids don’t finish the program,” Jacob leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I’ll finish, Mom.” And I knew he would. I never had any doubt.

Once upon a time, I wanted to have a baby, but what happened instead was that there was this whole, extraordinary person. Congratulations, Jacob. I hope you’re so proud you bust your buttons. I hope, too, that you know that even though you’re a man now, I’ll still sing the humming song to you whenever you want.

I love you to the moon.

Truncated Motherhood

The setting of a great hope is like the setting of the sun.
The brightness of our life is gone.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I had a therapist about a year and a half ago who gave me a hard time for maintaining Jacob and Abbie’s bedrooms when they had been gone so long. “It’s not healthy,” said the therapist. “You have to accept that this is what has happened in your life. Your kids are gone.”

I knew the instant she said it that she was wrong. In the darkest months and years of our alienation, when those kids and I could barely speak words to each other, those beds were the only invitation I could extend to them. The space I reserved for them in my home was proxy for the love they could not hear me speak. When Abbie came home, after the angst and anger were finished, she told me that she always knew she could come back, knew her bed was there for her, and even when she hated me, knew she was welcome in my family.

Jacob will be 19 in just a few weeks. He hasn’t lived in my house for nearly 5 years (and it may be nearly 6 years but the math is far beyond me now), and tonight, for the first time in 19 years minus 52 days, there is no bed for him here. I boxed up his few things and put them in a closet, took his bed to the donation center, and had his dad come get his drumset. With Abbie, I have experienced a miracle, but if there is a miracle with Jacob, it will be of a different sort.

This truncated motherhood is unnatural. Wrong. Jacob was the brightest part of my life, and in five long, excruciating years, I still have not learned to be content with his absence. I don’t know exactly what kind of pain I would be feeling if Jacob was still my son in all the ways, instead of just in the biological ones, as he moved into his adult life, but I know it would be different. He is mostly a stranger to me now. He is the person who made me a mother, a boy-man I find endlessly and intensely fascinating, but he is not really my family anymore. I won’t give up. I could never give up on knowing my magical, enchanting son, and to other parents suffering the horrors of alienation I always say, as long as our children are alive, there is hope. But what hope I had for a relationship beyond a perfunctory one is very small now.

He hasn’t lived with me in a long time, but tonight, for the first time, he really doesn’t live here anymore. There’s nothing for it except to breathe into the pain and pray that some day, we will all be healed; that eventually, I will lay down my grief and walk away from it, even for a little while.

But for tonight I am on my knees, screaming I love him I love him I love him and begging the universe for just one more chance.

Please.

Today, Forever

One day, a young woman (a girl, really) had a baby. The prettiest, sunniest baby of them all, he tucked so sweetly into her shoulder that she wept with joy.

The next day, the woman saw that the baby was a man, and he had made a decision. She helped him pack a bag and drove him to the place where he would start a new adventure.

She hugged him goodbye and her head tucked so sweetly into his shoulder that she wept with joy.

Walking away, the spring wind lifted her hair and she gasped.

I didn’t know it would happen so fast.

 

 

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.


The Adobe Flash Player is required for video playback.
Get the latest Flash Player or Watch this video on YouTube.

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