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.

Our Very Flesh

That hate. Does it hold your hand, comfort you, dry your tears? Will it make love to you in the warm dark of a July night when all is anguish and you need to feel life truth hope whispered against the skin of your neck? Has it served you meals when you are hungry and wrapped you in blankets when you are cold?

That hate. Does it hold your hand, comfort you, dry your tears? Will it make love with you in the warm dark of a July night when all is anguish and you need to feel life truth hope whispered against the skin of your neck? Has it served you meals when you are hungry and wrapped you in blankets when you are cold?

We are children of the tribe, bound by the circle of light cast by our campfire, enraptured by the stories we share and nourished by the food we gathered and prepared while we sang. The darkness presses. There are dangers out there in the wilderness but we are here, together, sustained.

We are made of stardust (literally) and sunlight (indirectly) and ocean and rocks and rain. Everything that is, has always been, forming and reforming. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Separateness is a story we tell until we believe it so well we can wear it around ourselves like armor.

Don’t we look foolish, wearing armor around the campfire? We are connected in our very flesh, with each other, with the earth and water and sky.

Tonight, when twilight is coming to a close, take off your shoes and go outside. Feel the ground under your feet and the air on your skin. Turn your face to the blue-dark sky and breathe. We are in the circle of firelight together, breathing the same air and standing on the same ground. Open your arms wide and

just

      let

           go.

There is no other, no them. Welsh, Afghani, American, Moroccan, Mexican, and Indonesian, we breathe the same air. Atheist, Hindi, Scientologist, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim, we are warmed by the same sun. Shooter’s mother and victim’s mother, we drink the same water. Shooter and victim, someone grieves for us. Fat and thin, we are nourished by the earth. Lesbian, heterosexual, transgender, asexual, and queer, we are human.

Hate will never warm our beds or slake our thirst.

Come closer to the campfire and tell us a story. Share our food and wine. Sing with us.

We will all be healed, together.

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.

The Transcendent Familiar 3.1: I Won’t Fade Away

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Some stories are like laundry. The longer you put off telling them, the bigger they grow.

This story, the one about my earliest adulthood and my relationship with Jacob and Abbie’s dad, has reached the ceiling, toppled over, and begun to spread across the hall and into the bathroom.

So now the whole family is going commando, the house is smelling a bit putrid, and I’ve written half-a-dozen versions of part four of this story, none of which feel, precisely, like the truth.

In any case, this story, the one about my relationship with Robert, is not the one I set out to tell. I was trying to find my way into the tale of Brian’s and my messy start as a blended family and how we screwed up everything that could possibly be screwed up and were just beginning to get our feet under us when Carter was born. Carter being Carter, his arrival tossed all the pieces back into the air and left us lost and gasping until last week.

Not really; we’re still lost and gasping, but not as much as we used to be, so I’m calling it progress. The level of stress/pain/anguish rises and falls, but overall things get more difficult as time goes by. Such is the nature of a mental illness like Carter’s, but we are less surprised by the shifts now, more aware of the beast who lives here with us, inside our little boy. Less surprised = better.

I wasn’t especially interested in the story of Robert and me because I thought the life had drained out of it by now. This Monday it will be 14 years since he moved out of the house we’d shared, so the wounds have healed by now, even if some of the scars are twisted, lumpy things. I don’t feel much when I think about those years now except a sort of wistful regret.

When I started to write the story, I ran into so much ugliness—not the top-level ugliness, but the underneath; the stuff that makes up the whys and wherefores of it all—that I got scared. It was like somebody turned off the word-faucet.

This is the power of writing and telling stories, and this is also the curse of the story teller. The telling is an act of peeling away, of revealing, but the problem is not that one finds oneself in front of a crowd, bare-assed and raw. Ultimately, the problem is finding oneself bare-assed and raw in front of a mirror.

Much of what I see in the mirror hurts, and not in a distant way. The pain is now, today, because what I did then, I do now. Who I was then is who I am now.

The sameness is not obvious, which has enabled me to tell myself that I am different now, at least until writing the story stripped me bare. Robert treated me badly (Even now I hear him, Jesus, what are you complaining about? It’s not like I beat you or anything!), in ways I would not tolerate today.

Except that I do tolerate that treatment today. What the hell are you complaining about? It’s not like you deserve better.

Not Brian. Never think it. Far fewer people now than in the past, and still.

I turned off the words and put my clothes back on not just to protect myself, but because Carter needs me. He has bugs in his hair (not really) and the dogs destroyed all of his toys (they never did). His teeth are growing in wrong (they’re fine) and there are gorillas hiding in the bushes in our backyard. He needs someone with him every minute of the day, and me with my face in the computer does not match his idea of with.

So my story stalled, and the words backed up, and last week I had a sloppy, obscene emotional breakdown. I wailed to Brian that Carter is eating me, consuming everything that I like about myself and my life, including my ability to use words to make sentences and sentences to build stories and stories to make some kind of peace with the chaos swirling inside me.

Telling stories heals me, but telling stories requires two things of which I have a critically short supply: time, and emotional energy. Sometimes (as you well know if you are not new to No Points for Style), I stall out altogether.

Eventually, No Points for Style starts to hang over my head like an obligation, as if I’m a high school junior and I should be studying for a math test but instead I’m watching TV. My God, how I hate that feeling, when something I love, something I created and that fulfills me and of which I am deeply proud, feels like a burden.

Eventually, Carter starts to hang over my head like an obligation, as if I’m an employee and he is the job I can barely tolerate. My God, how I hate that feeling, when someone I love, someone I created and who fulfills me and of whom I am deeply proud, feels like a burden.

Come what may
I won’t fade away
But I know I might change

Nothing comes easily
Fill this empty space
Nothing is like it was
Turn my grief to grace

Part 4

As Predictable As Rain In Seattle

As predictable as sleepless nights with a newborn…

As predictable as spring winds in Albuquerque…

As predictable as taxes on April 15 in the US…

That’s how predictable I am.

My sons are both nearly perfect physical replicas of their fathers, what people have called, ever since those weird Austin Powers movies, a “mini me.” But where Carter has some aspects of his father’s personality and some of mine, and mostly is his own self entirely, Jacob is temperamentally (nearly) identical to his dad, Robert.

Face-to-face with Jacob when he is angry at me, I am again the woman I was when I was married to Robert.

My God, how I hated that woman. Robert and I brought out the worst in each other; the extent to which we were mismatched would be comical if we had divorced before we had children. As it is, we did have children, and our story is almost all tragedy.

I want to leave that woman behind, the woman I was between 1990, when I met Robert, and 1997, when we divorced. I want to pretend that she was born of that ill-fated relationship, an anomaly, not, somehow, a part of me.

But, of course, she is me. Faced with Jacob’s angry words that mirror Robert’s, I feel those terrible/familiar feelings, respond in those terrible/familiar ways, become that woman I despise. I am so predictable, I want to tear out my hair and gouge my eyes so that I can feel something different than this shattering, crushing, smashing in my chest.

Jacob is my baby, the person who made me a mother. He is the flaxen-haired beauty who I called Tooter until he was three. On his first day of kindergarten, I arrived two hours early to pick him up and waited, anxiously, in the car for the final bell, and then did the same thing on his first day of middle school.

By his first day of high school, I had been uninvited from his day-to-day life.

Today, he hates me. Whether the hate is born of ordinary seventeen-ness or if it is a product of the fractures and battles in our family, he hates me. My fault, his fault, or nobody’s fault, he hates me.

I love him as much as I ever did, but this…

This hurts in my hair and my toenails and my mitochondrial DNA.