What Trump Exposed About the G.O.P. – The New York Times
Category Archives: child neglect
(Statements in italics taken from Ethics, by Baruch de Spinoza)
Look farther and farther toward thin blue sky, until the green feathery tops of the trees are like the northern pole on some dream planet. Put the anger back in its bottle. These trees are generous. Hatred can never be good.
Your carsickness from the ride up the mountain begins to fade, leaving behind a breathless, weepy echo not unlike your first religious fervor. Hatred is increased through return of hatred, but may be destroyed by love.
When have you not been afraid? The random can be scrutinized for meaning, the puzzle solved, when surveyed long & carefully enough. Anything may be accidentally the cause of either hope or fear.
These trees have plenty of time. As a child, you stared at Jesus’ sad face for hours, wishing you could marry him — wondering what it was that made him love you. Could you sacrifice yourself for the sins of the world, if it was that simple & necessary? Cathedrals turn us small and vulnerable again, for reasons both blessed & cursed. Devotion is love towards an object which astonishes us.
Vague, starry eyes like yours feel at home here; the air is weighty, burdensome & solemn. You’ve loved trees before; this is different. These trees have plenty of time – more time than you. If we love a thing which is like ourselves, we endeavor as much as possible to make it love us in return.
Your nerves are suddenly frozen, by the unaccustomed richness of perfect light. Your guide is tall & slender, hesitant to speak. Her mother has the tattooed forearm of a Polish Jew of a certain age. The knowledge of good and evil is nothing but an idea of joy or sorrow. Sorrow is [a hu]man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection.
These trees have plenty of time. She touches your wrist, and for a moment, you, too, want to grow taller, leaving the surface of the earth behind forever. Shyly, she picks up a tiny pinecone, smaller than a toy. You both laugh when she tells you this is their seed. Joy is [a hu]man’s passage from a less to a greater perfection.
These trees have plenty of time. And all around, their wise, fallen, hollow bodies litter the ground like the bones of saints. Childlike, you understand a wish to die here, never to leave this hush. They’re only trees – your neck bent back as far as it will go; only trees, yet wondering if the giants can hear your thoughts. Love is joy, with the accompanying idea of an external cause. Love and desire may be excessive. When the mind imagines its own weakness, it necessarily sorrows.
Is there anything we have less power over than our own tongues? These trees have plenty of time, growing wise as the Buddha, in their silence.
August 14, 2016
Oprah’s Closet, an essay on priorities
It’s Super Soul Sunday on OWN, Oprah’s personal TV network. She sits with an author on a self-help book & discusses how, she, Oprah stands inside her walk-in closet & decides it’s not making her happy anymore.
Assumption number one: we, the viewer, can stand inside our closet.
Assumption number two: we, the viewer, are far enough ahead in the game of “net worth” to be able to discuss whether or not our large walk-in closet makes us “happy.”
Oh, Oprah. And just as I was just about to feel really good about you & your legitimately valuable achievements again! I mean, come on. You name EVERYTHING after yourself, and then justify it by saying it’s inspiring others to reach what you define as their “full potential” or some shit.
What the fucking fuck? Seriously? You just snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Who gives a fuck about whether their closet makes them “happy?” Oprah, when did you get lost?
Priorities. Resources. Allocation. Social goals. Civilization. Society. Government. All people are created equal, and deserve at least a level playing field. A level playing field. Let our society make sure that every child starts the game on a level playing field. What we agree upon as humane. HUMANE treatment for humanity. Imagine that, Oprah!
Forget your closet! Let no child go hungry; unwashed; unloved; uneducated. Let no child languish in the care of a family which cannot care for them. NO child. Not just yours. Not just some theoretical children, in the abstract. Real, live, actual, living children, sitting in their living rooms, none of which should be scary, or dirty, or smelly, or empty. We are all equally entitled to the resources of this particular planet. And any other that anybody reaches.
Ain’t nobody owns the moon. Or the sea. Or the stars. Or the air. Or the water. But they WOULD LIKE TO. Therein lies the problem.
PRETZELS & CHOCOLATE
(rented room, cigarettes)
I am eating pretzels
and they are hard
but splinter into salty crumbs
with the merest bite
they only satisfy
part of my tongue
(rented room, cigarettes)
so I pick up the chocolate
greedy for it to melt
against my palate
sucking the firm square
feeling it mold to me
the way I imagine
my body molds to yours
(rented room, cigarettes)
retaining the character of sweetness
to complement the salt
to balance my mouth
I am eating chocolate
thinking of us
(rented room, cigarettes)
The Analysand, a short fiction
“I’ll take your word for it,” she said.
She remembered long-forgotten moments; instances of innocence, of confidence, of hope. Her analyst wanted more from her than pages in her journal, more than frozen images which may… or may not… have actually happened. Four bundles of smooth, shiny, purple rope lay on the coffee table in his office, four beautifully coiled bundles, bound & tied with intricate, ceremonial knots. His eyes met hers; bright blue lamps of inquisitiveness and Inquisition.
“Where do you get that kind of rope?” she asked.
“I make it,” he said. “I dye it with Tyrian purple and condition it with organic beeswax.”
She kept her face neutral; curious. She’d had enough of fake tourist traps for a dozen lifetimes; boring main highways hadn’t ever led her to anyplace she’d want to stay in for long. And the sun rises even after the darkest night. And the sun sets after the sunniest day. Night has its own charms. Her wounds were on the inside… and his? His… would be healed by helping her heal her own. The rope laid on the table, gleaming & inscrutable. Her favorite violin, a Bergonzi, sat silent & helpless on her lap.
She’d been dead so long; she’d wanted her to speak for herself for so long. Her mother had treated her like anything but a daughter; pupil, instructor, heathen, missionary, ghost, confessor, beggar, heir, therapist, patient. So strike a pose; strike a deal; strike a match. What difference does any of it make: preserving body & soul is not good enough; nurture your body and your soul. Peace arises where all paths meet; crossroads for weary travelers. Fevers can burn you up. Water can heal. She put the violin back in its case.
“Okay,” she said. “It’s worth a try.” She stood up off the couch and took off her clothes.
Dr. Zhu tied her up gently, kissing her as he did. Yes. He started at her ankles, and bound her up like a trussed bird. And then he helped her lie down on his soft purple couch and began his work. Where you find the water of life, is home.
If You Seek It Like Silver
My father was evasive on the subject of ancestors. Emigrating, as he did, from the dark heart of Bohemia, he must have understood that some mixing of races was inevitable. Otherness was part of him — visible in his eyes, in his cheeks, in the reluctant way he wore his necktie. He forced himself to stand still and proper his whole life — in due time even Anglicizing his name — but try as he might, never managed to forget who he was and where he came from. That was why he ended up erasing himself until all that was left with a pen & ink silhouette.
My mother was not evasive about anything. Or so I thought. In fact, she was so brutally honest, she admitted to my father that her idea of “socializing” was to invite everyone in the neighborhood over, once a year, for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (whore’s ovaries, she called them). Other than that, she kept our family as stiff & guarded as Alcatraz. My father seemed to be quieter, to drink a little more, to sit a little longer in front of the television. Then one day my little brother came home dirty, sweaty & crying, from his very first day of school.
“They all called me a dirty Bohunk,” he sobbed.
“Well, why do you listen to the stupid, mean kids?” my mother grumbled. She sat at the dining room table hand-tinting my little brother’s most recent black-and-white, artsy portrait photograph. In the picture, he leaned against a Victorian-style porch railing, his blond curls glinting in the studio light, caressing a large sailboat. “Quit complaining about your feelings. Feelings were made to be conquered.”
My little brother and I were eight years apart, and were nothing alike. I was tall, angular and dark, and had a talent for rages that seemed to be sudden, but were slow-developing and complex in origin. He had inherited the large-boned, pink-and-ivory glow and the sound, dreamless sleep of my mother’s family.
“But I want to have friends, Ma,” he shouted. His chest, like mine, wheezed & he coughed
“You’re there to get education first,” she said. “In two weeks they’ll have forgotten all about your last name. They’ll go on to other games.”
“No they won’t. They’ll never forget. They’ll keep saying it until I die.” He turned, running out of the room, and then we heard him clatter down the porch steps, banging the porch door behind him.
My mother frowned and stared, as if waiting for me to go after him; instead I began setting the table for dinner. “He’ll get over it,” she said, turning around. “Just like you did.” No, I thought; he’s going to learn to ignore his feelings; just like you; disgust. The last thing I wanted to be was anything like my mother; who freaked me out; who wasn’t comforting; who scolded her way into your brain like a hot branding iron. Imposing her will; all over the place; over your spirit. Branded spirit; oppressed spirit; dying spirit.
My little brother wasn’t gone very long, but upon returning, got into his pajamas and went straight to bed, refusing to eat. This had never happened before. Daddy went up and sat on the edge of his bed. I watched from the hallway. Wake up, I thought; wake the hell up!
“Don’t you want something to eat, sport?” Daddy asked. He hadn’t cared so much about my feelings when this had happened to me. Then, he’d been silent, letting Ma handle the whole thing. I suppose he felt it was different for a boy — when a boy cried, it mattered. You too, Daddy, I thought; you need to wake up, too; ignoring things; postponing things; assimilating yourself into your life rather than creating your life; quit playing possum; get up out of that chair; change the channel; yourself.
I was surprised when the next day, Daddy told us what he wanted to do. So was everybody else. My mother most of all. I had never seen the two of them like this. My stomach fell into some icy, limitless abyss in the universe; I had to get out of it, immediately.
“I’m going to change our family name,” he announced. “I should have done it long ago. I should have done it before we were married.” My mother sat in her chair, breathing in short gasps, as if she’d received a sudden whack to the chest. Finally she spoke.
“But it’s my last name too,” she said. “I think it’s ridiculous!”
“It’s not just for him,” my father shouted, slapping the newspaper against his legs. “It’s for all of us. I’m God-damned sick and tired of having everyone get our name wrong. Every time we order something, open an account, write a check, we get these asinine comments. Life’s too short for this. I’m changing my name, and the kids’ names, and that’s that.”
“That’s not a choice,” she hissed, “and you know it.” She kicked her pumps off, throwing them against the floor. “You’ve allowed me no say in this.” Now she was all for individuality; feelings; identity; spirit; it’s always just a question of whose ox is being gored by someone else’s ox. I felt like an ox, dragging my dysfunctional family along. Get out of here, I thought. Get out of here and find something to laugh about; or at least smile about.
And what on earth would I tell people at school? Somehow, facing the teachers with a new name seemed even worse than telling all my friends. It was just like my mother and father to ignore the fact that this whole thing would be the hardest on me. They were already grown up, and Dennis was just a little kid. I was the one stuck in the middle. I sat there examining my nails, not wanting to see their faces at this moment. Fox-holing my soul, stuffing it into a warm, soft hidey-hole; as safe as that icy abyss had been dangerous.
The name change happened at the end of summer. On my last day before joining the WASP tribe, such as it was; white bread; vanilla ice cream; whipped potatoes; roasted meats; sugar cookies; freshly squeezed orange juice. The day was bright and sunny and dry; my best friend and I were out in the backyard, perfecting our variety show. That day I was the emcee, she was the sponsor, and we each did half the guest acts. We had tap shoes, and purple and yellow shorts from gym class, and a small piece of plywood to serve as a stage. She also had a fringed felt skirt of her cousin’s and a pair of black kitten heels, for the commercials. Nothing else mattered until tomorrow. Stranded on a desert island, nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide; naked but for the protective coloration in my mind. No one outside the family knew about our imminent name-change.
In an attempt to make peace, Daddy let Ma choose the new last name. She picked one which sounded horrible at first, but gradually became appealing. I begged Ma to send out announcement cards to my friends’ parents and to my teachers, but she just closed her eyes.
“You’re going to have to tell them yourself,” she said.
“She’s just scared to tell them she’s not going to be a dirty Bohunk anymore,” said my little brother. “I’m not scared.”
“What do you mean?” I yelled. “Don’t make me laugh. You’re the most scared one of all. You’re so scared, you’re the whole reason we’re doing this stupid thing.”
“No he isn’t,” said Ma. “Don’t blame your brother. Now go find something to do, both of you. I don’t want to hear any more fighting.”
“I bet you like being a Bohunk,” he whispered as we walked down the hallway toward the front door. “You’re stupid, not me. You’re a stupid Bohunk girl.” He ran out the door, ducking my attempted slap with an expert sideways twist.
When he appeared in the backyard, jeering and laughing at my best friend and me, pointing at us and smeared about the face with dirt and grape soda, I picked up a large rock and threw it at the fence where he stood — to scare him. The rock, being inanimate, didn’t understand, and so, obeying the laws of physics, bounced obediently off the fence, then into his head. A large egg-shaped lump sprang out instantly, right in the middle of his forehead. The skin swelled bigger and bigger before my eyes like a balloon. He swayed and fell down on the ground right where he was. Without even looking back at my friend, I ran — out of the yard, down the rear alley, and out of the neighborhood. I ran till my breath burned in my windpipe, then kept on walking.
Our house was five and a half miles inland. I walked all the way to the boardwalk in my tap shoes, the metal taps tapping and grinding against the sidewalk with every step. Blisters formed on my heels, but I kept on, walking slower, placing my feet against the sidewalks with more care. The wind had begun to pick up; the decorative streamers on my favorite ice-cream parlor puffed and snapped.
The boardwalk was crowded, as usual, with transient peddlers. Amid the portable push-carts was a large, gleaming Airstream trailer. Its bulbous surface reflected the milling crowd like a funhouse mirror. As I approached, drawn like a magpie to the smooth, shiny aluminum surface, I noticed a young woman sitting at a folding display table in front of the trailer. She was missing several of her front teeth. Other than that, she was beautiful, her eyes large and clear, her skin like velvet. The dumpy baby in her lap was drooling and babbling like any ordinary kid. My heart leaped inside my chest suddenly, for no reason.
The brand-new Airstream was hitched up to a horrible-looking pickup truck: scabrous, multi-layered paint, rotting fenders. I stood, my legs trembling, examining the large array of beaded purses on her table, and also peeking in the side window of the trailer — the built-in furniture inside was pale pink, and sheathed in plastic. I picked up one of the small purses, completely covered with tiny glass beads, sewn in a dark Oriental-rug pattern. The beaded bag was sinuous and heavy in my hands, like a living thing.
“Can you tell me my fortune?” I asked the lady, my heart pounding against my chest like a small fist.
She stared at me for a moment, then laughed, causing the baby on her lap to startle, his small fat arms jerking. But he, too, smiled after a moment, a toothless grin that matched her own. The baby grabbed at her long hair, stuffing a large handful of it into his mouth.
“No, I can’t,” she said, shaking her head. “But if you dance,” she said, pointing down at my dusty tap shoes, “I’ll give you something.”
“You mean right here?” I asked. “In front of all these people?”
“Sure,” she said. “I love tap-dancing. I’ll give you that purse, if you want.”
The purse’s beading was dark purple, amber and bottle-green. I glanced around at the people strolling by, wondering what they’d think, whether they’d laugh. But it didn’t really matter, did it? I had stepped across some invisible line: tap-dancing on the beach was nothing for a Bohunk like me.
“Okay,” I said. I moved away from the table and raised my arms, spreading them like stiff, flightless wings. Nodding at her, I began my spring recital piece, the one I did wearing a silver top hat and spats. Though the sound of my taps was muffled by the rough-laid planks of the boardwalk, I knew my form was perfect. I finished, and she brought her baby’s hands together with her own, holding his wrists and slapping his tiny palms in mock applause, but then she stopped and smiled, and I knew she’d been pleased.
“Take it,” she said, gesturing toward the table.
“Thank you,” I said, letting the prize swing from my fingers, the beaded loops of fringe rustling against my arm like the curious touch of a stranger. I stood for a moment, noticing her eyes, which from a distance had appeared dark brown, edged in black: surrounding her pupils were small featherings of blue, green, yellow, brown and gray. “I think I killed my brother,” I told her, starting to cry.
“No you didn’t,” she said. “He’s not dead. You can go home.”
“How do you know?” I asked, clutching the bag to my chest. The baby snuggled against her, leaning into her generous breasts, sucking his fingers and blinking his eyes slowly, falling toward sleep.
“You dance too well to be a murderer,” she said, frowning. “Go home to your… fortune.”
As I turned to leave, I saw a handsome boy in a vivid yellow windbreaker watching me from the boardwalk’s edge. His lean face was sculptured, his cheekbones and chin jutting out. His mouth was open — not a smile — and his teeth were square and white. As my eyes met his… his face benign, expressionless… he made his hands into tight fists, arms stiff and straight at his sides, and began nodding his head — forward and back, forward and back. Yes, he indicated. Yes.
“Take your new purse and go home,” the woman said again, turning to look at the strange boy. “But first give the baby a kiss, for luck.” So I bent down, kissing the baby’s drool-wet cheek, struggling with the impulse to dry my lips on my sleeve as I turned away.
By the time I got home, it was dark. A police car was parked in front of the house. As I tried the front door-handle and started to knock, it opened and my mother stood to one side, holding the door, as I walked into the foyer. She reached out, as if to embrace me, but at the last minute changed her mind and pushed me away. I don’t care, I thought. I don’t fucking care. For a moment? I hated her with every cell in my body. Then Daddy grabbed me, squeezing me so hard around the ribs I couldn’t inhale.
“Are they going to arrest her for throwing rocks at me?” asked my little brother from the top of the stairs.
“Certainly not,” said my mother. “Go back to bed.”
The next day was hot — the smog so thick it dimmed the sun’s rays. Somehow, that weird half-light made the air seem even hotter than the real temperature. We toured the marble-floored courthouse downtown, meeting our lawyer outside the judge’s office. The secretary ushered us in. The judge had a lot of fluffy white hair and a waxed, curlicue handlebar mustache that gave me the shivers. As I walked by him, he winked.
He asked us if we had any dishonest or criminal reasons for changing our names — then asked us if we were all sure it was what we wanted. I wasn’t sure — I saw my mother start to say something, too, but the judge didn’t notice. He looked at me.
“What about you, young lady?” he asked. “Do you want to change your name to something that everybody in the U.S. can spell?”
My heart felt like a fat frog, quivering, and I couldn’t speak. The judge didn’t wait for my answer, just started chuckling to himself, then he signed the sheaf of official papers with a judge-like flourish and changed me from a Bohunk into an American.
I went to confession that week with a lot to say. The new priest had a strange kind of beauty — artfully shaped eyebrows, large protruding eyes, fleshy but precise lips, dimpled chin. His English was faintly accented. I liked to imagine he was in love with me, but too saintly to break his vows — he twisted and turned each night upon his hard, narrow cot, praying in vain for relief from the tempting visions of me. In the booth, the words came easily.
“I almost killed my brother,” I told him. I waited in the hot, breathy silence. “I committed perjury.” Still nothing. “I looked on a man with lust,” I said, remembering the taut face of the boy on the beach. Now tell me I’m evil, I thought. Tell me I’m going to hell, talk to me about the pit of fire, the writhing serpents.
“Do you fear for your soul?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “Everything has changed. I’m not the same as I used to be.”
“God knows what’s in your heart,” he said. “Sometimes being ashamed is the most important thing. It’s the first step to changing.” He cleared his throat.
“I’m supposed to be changing? Does changing your name count?” I couldn’t help laughing — then wondered if laughter in the confessional was some sort of sin.
“Changing your name? You mean by marriage?” He sounded shocked.
“No, my family — we all changed our last name. Because my father was ashamed. Because no one knew how to spell it. Because he didn’t want anyone to think we were — strange.” I waited; his silence was interminable. I heard him sigh.
“A name can be very important for the peace of the soul.”
“But nobody asked if I wanted to change.”
“Your father did what he thought was right.”
“But I can’t stop being angry,” I said, almost crying.
“Pray for your anger to be taken from you,” he said. “Pray for guidance.”
But wasn’t he supposed to give me that — guidance? Where was his usual sympathy? I felt weak, dizzy.
“Yes, Father,” I said, though tears had started. “I’ll pray for guidance.” Pushing the booth’s wooden door open — so hard it knocked against the outer wall of the adjacent confessional — I felt Father startle and jump inside his half of the booth in the second before I slipped my shoes off and ran out of the church.
A bunch of us freshman girls journeyed to the first school dance of the year as a dateless yet hopeful group. As we stood talking and laughing — eyeing the large group of stag boys near the gym doors — we fussed with our hair and rattled our charm bracelets. The tall, good-looking boy I’d seen that awful day at the beach approached, and invited me to dance.
“Did you get married over the summer or something?” he asked, tossing his forelock out of his eyes as we twirled out to the middle of the floor.
“Married?” I said, peering up at his face in the dim, dance-floor light. His eyes were large, round and brown, and his lower lip full so that even his scowl had a goofy, angelic quality. “Are you kidding or something?” I asked.
“Well, last thing I knew your last name was different.” He smiled and tapped my name tag with one finger. “So, I figure either I’m going senile, or you got married.” He winked. “Odds are, I’m not senile.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, smiling.
“Well, sometimes I wonder.” He laughed, caressing my back softly as we danced.
“My father changed our last name over the summer,” I said. “Tired of having it misspelled, stuff like that.”
“Well, this one will attract less attention, that’s for sure.”
“Yes, it will,” I said, and then the fast song was over. We stopped, standing together for a moment, then another song began, but we didn’t resume dancing.
“Would you like to go get a soda?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, nodding. We went out to the main entry hall, where some members of the student council were selling refreshments: Cokes, brownies, small bags of popcorn.
“It’s hot in there. Let’s walk around the courtyard for a minute,” he said, holding the cold green bottle against his forehead. He held out his hand to lead me, and I noticed it trembling. We sat down on the edge of a concrete planter, hidden from the dance behind its large circular hedge. The music sounded tinny from out here, but a slight breeze was blowing, and the air had a clean smell. He took a long swig of his soda, then put the bottle down. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, sounding like he might cry. He put his hand against my breast, squeezing me as though caressing some exotic fruit, and then, upon discerning no obvious resistance, he leaned forward with his lips pursed. As he kissed me, his hand kept on moving, pulling at the buttons of my blouse, sliding around under my clothing and tugging at the hooks on my brassiere like a small inquisitive animal.
My feelings over the next few days were a dizzying combination of exhilaration and despair. I’d let him touch me, and it had felt good — but the fact that I’d allowed it to happen disgusted me. It was part of my body that had betrayed me — some fundamental weakness — a new aspect of myself I’d never be able to get rid of. I kept looking in the mirror: the dark circles under my eyes seemed worse, and my complexion got hazy. My hair seemed altered, losing its shine, its color. I felt suddenly younger and older at the same time. Ma and I were shopping for groceries when I felt caution melt away inside me.
“Did anybody ever try to touch you under your blouse?” I asked her, in the frozen food aisle.
“What do you mean, touch?” she asked.
“Like on a date or something,” I said.
“Of course,” she snorted, throwing half-a-dozen packages of peas into the cart. “What do you think, that’s a recent invention?”
“What did you do, then?”
“I kept their hands away,” she said. “I made them stop.”
“Well, what about Daddy?” I asked. “Did he ever try? He must have.”
“I’m not going to go into the specifics with you,” she said. “Just don’t let things go that far.” She turned and stared at me.
“No, of course not,” I said, feeling the blood heat up inside my lying cheeks, my lying neck. I knew she noticed. No way out.
“I don’t know why I bother,” she said, stirring a pot of tiny meatballs in sauce, her hair coiled in gleaming pin-curl clips. “No one invites us back.” My mother was more cranky than usual about her annual cocktail party.
“That’s not why you give the party, is it?” my father asked, laughing. “You wouldn’t go to most of these people’s houses, anyway. No, you just want them to be in your debt.” He patted her. “Just like me,” he added. People were trickling in when one of Daddy’s friends brought up the name change.
“When I got the invitation, I was stumped for a minute,” he said. “I thought, who do I know who changed their damn name? If you’re trying to lose the bill collectors, you forgot the most important thing — get the hell out of Dodge!” He threw his head back and laughed; a braying ass. My mother felt the same way and poured her drink on his shoes. For once, for one blessed moment, I agreed with her completely on something. Common ground. The beginning of our real, far deadlier arguments.
“I don’t care what you think,” she said, waving her arms over her head. “Any of you!” The whole group fell quiet, and after a moment, people who had just arrived began moving toward the hall closet to get their coats.
“Now, wait a minute,” my father said. “He was just kidding!”
“Gee, so was I,” she said. “Couldn’t you tell?” She kicked off her shoes, then ran up the stairs; I watched, then scrambled up after her. In her bedroom, she flopped down on the bed, heedless of the starched, organdy collar and bows on her black dress. She jerked her legs back and forth, back and forth, and her stockings hissed against the satin of the bedspread. “I knew from the day I met your father we’d never be soul mates or anything,” she said. “But I was hoping for something better than this.”
“I’m sure he was hoping for something better, too,” I said. “Do you know how horrible you can be? Do you?” I wasn’t going to end up like her, or like him — or like anybody in my family. It didn’t matter what my name was. “If Daddy and I hadn’t been there watching, you wouldn’t have poured that drink on the man, would you?” I hate you, I thought. And you hate me, too. Own it, you fucking cunt.
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” she snorted, throwing her arm across her eyes. “You and your theories. I was just mad, that’s all.” She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, live for long outside her locked, electrified steel cage of rage, I realized.
She shook her head, and her hair, pinned in a loose bun, fell free and tangled in a soft cloak around her neck. My own breathing became the most delicate of rhythms. I closed my eyes and stood next to the door, swaying in place. She was absolutely right: her daughter was a rebel both by nature and by choice. Too much Order… too much Chaos… then back again, a beautiful, inscrutable figure eight. Ma kept on talking, talking about the right way to do everything, the petulant sound of her voice changing inside my head into a soothing, abstract blur, like river water over smooth, flesh-colored rocks. Grief and guilt flew out of me: sharp arrows of silver, or cobalt glass. My own insatiable needs burst their seed casings; moving shapes cast their inscrutable dark shadows against the walls of my secret cave; I fell in love with the light of my tiny, disobedient candle. I kept on nodding and nodding; pretending to listen; planning my escape.
Night Blooming Jasmine, a poem
After dark, anything could happen – each
moment was disconnected from the last.
There was no logical progression to our lives:
most events had the dramatic essence of a car
accident. One evening, my mother decided
to sneak out my bedroom window when my
stepfather cut her off. He was drunk himself,
but for some reason decided she shouldn’t have
more Scotch. I remember her butt, in white
nylon undies, decorating the center of my open
window. I both fretted and hoped that she might
fall and hurt herself. Another night, my stepfather
decided it was time to throw all the pillows away,
including mine, because to him they smelled like
“horse piss.” My mother followed, protesting
loudly, wrestling him for the pillows. She lost:
the pillows went into the garbage cart. This
happened in our front yard, on a warm night scented
with night-blooming jasmine. I watched the two
drunken grown-ups, distancing myself from the scene.
I watched it like a T.V. show or a movie. When
I try to tell people about these things now, I can’t
keep a straight face. The laughter chokes me,
renders me unable to speak. I am silenced.
They’re both long dead now… but I’m still here.
Things We Never Said, a short story
She was beautiful, as all mothers are to their children, but it was far more than that. Total strangers told me how beautiful my mother was. She was particularly fine-boned and delicate. Her skin was the softest I’ve known, her arms and hands the most stubborn, the most lethal.
Mom was an alcoholic, of course, and the most gruesomely stubborn person I’ve ever known. She went past simple denial and created her own alternative universe. Once, some quack psychiatrist she was seeing told her she wasn’t a “true” alcoholic — that she only drank out of boredom. She clung to that unfortunate phrase of absolution, repeating it like a robot in a variety of situations, until the day she died at 44 from alcoholic pancreatitis.
The only way we ever got her into rehab was when we threatened to call the police about obtaining drugs by false pretenses. She’d call the drugstore and tell them it was Dr. So-and-so’s office, would they please fill a prescription for such-and-such, three refills, please.
She got stiff all over when she drank, not like a normal drinker who gets loose. Stiff, and with a duck-legged walk that made my flesh crawl. I can’t tell you how many times I just let her lay there on the floor where she’d stumbled in a drunken stupor. I couldn’t bring myself to touch her.
If only Mom could have been more like Charity Hope Valentine, the taxi dancer in “Sweet Charity” who, after being pinched, pawed at, fondled, ridiculed, robbed, tattooed, thrown from a bridge, trapped in an elevator, and deserted at the altar, rather meekly accepts the cheery and somehow redeeming gift of a single daisy from a group of 60s flower children, pulling herself out of her misery yet again, and living “hopefully” ever after.
My mother and I both said “I love you,” a lot, and to no avail. Neither of us believed in love. We believed only in self-preservation. Trust was unknown. I have never learned the reasons for staying with another. All I can think of, now that I’m married, is what I’m missing, giving up for the other. How short life is, and how unhappy.
I took a developmental psychology course once, while my mother was still alive. The teacher explained that no child ever actually dreams of killing the mother. Infantile rage exists, yes, murderous anger exists, yes, but the true desire to kill can never be resident in the child’s subconscious. “The instinct for preservation is too great,” she said.
When I told her, later and in private, how I’d dreamed that very act, how in my dreams I’d taken the great butcher knife out of the kitchen drawer and stabbed it viciously and repeatedly into my mother’s fine and delicately boned chest, she shook her head skeptically.
“You didn’t really dream that,” she insisted. “You only think you did.” I didn’t argue. I was still too afraid it might happen in reality to insist that it had happened in dreams.
She was never a very good mother. I was never a very good daughter. After she died, I went to confess my guilt over my record as a daughter once, to an Episcopal priest. “I let my mother down,” I told him.
“No, you didn’t,” he insisted. “You were the child. You had the right to go off and live your own life.” I was angry at him, and never went back.
I still feel guilty about the first time I knew I’d hurt her feelings. She made me a bunny rabbit salad – a scoop of cottage cheese for the bunny’s face, cut up vegetables for the bunny’s ears, eyes, nose, and whiskers. It was adorable. But I hated cottage cheese, and salad. I was four years old. “I don’t like cottage cheese,” I told her.
“Just try it,” she said.
“No.” I refused over and over again. Finally, she ran out of the kitchen, to the bathroom, and I knew she was crying. I sat in the kitchen, staring at the rabbit, not eating it. I didn’t follow her, I didn’t apologize, and I sat there until someone, probably my grandmother, covered the plate with a piece of plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. I knew I was never going to eat that bunny rabbit salad.
I mailed the invitations to my own daughter’s birthday party today. She’ll be four in sixteen days. Oddly enough, all I could think of as I wrote out the cards was how much my own mother would have enjoyed seeing my child, her first grandchild. I know exactly what my mother’s face would look like if she were at the party — lovely, tremulous, inevitably a little weepy. I also know half of my pleasure would come from seeing the tenderness in my mother’s wide brown eyes as together we would watch my little Katie blow out all her candles.
Jan. 11, 1979
Kenneth got into a big fight with his father last night. His Dad said that he follows me around like a puppet, and that he’s being bought. Then his Dad told him he was a lazy little bastard for not fixing his car & going somewhere with his mother. Then Kenneth said something back and his Dad tried to choke him and Kenneth left & went to the library.
I have a feeling Kenneth’s Dad hates me, or at least dislikes me. He would probably be a lot happier if I wasn’t going out with Kenneth. I would like to go up to his Dad and say that if he would prefer Kenneth not go out with me — because he thinks Kenneth would be better able to concentrate on sports & school — I will comply.
All I know for sure is that I don’t know anything anymore. Sometimes, I want to go far away – to Europe, maybe – and meet strange people and find out how to live. But then I get scared and I am suddenly glad to be in my safe room with all my possessions that tell me who I am supposed to be. I don’t know who I am – I used to, but things have changed so much, I’m not sure anymore.
Ever since Mom and my stepdad got divorced, it’s been harder and harder to just live. Mom is getting worse with the booze and sometimes I get so angry that I scream at her. Then I feel awful and try to hug her and tell her I’m sorry, but she’s so out of it she just stands there, swaying a little with her eyes half-crossed, and I end up stomping into my room and slamming the door and locking it. Then I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling and sigh.
It’s the best just after I get home from classes at community college. Mom isn’t here, and I am alone. No one can bother me, and if the phone rings I don’t answer it. It gives me a sense of power – listening to that phone ring and ring and ring until whoever is calling hangs up, frustrated. I close all the curtains and put on records and smoke cigarettes. In my cool, dark cave I find peace for a few hours.
At six o’clock, though, I hear that fucking bitch, my mother, put her key in the lock, and I jump up and run down the hall to my room to get away. If Mom says something to me, I try to be nice, but it’s usually only a few minutes before our voices become sharp and anger is in the air again. Until she’s blotto, that is. Then, wobbling and bleary-eyed, she’s all lovey-dovey, but also by then all I want to do is shake her until her head falls off!
The only positive things in my life are Amy and Kenneth. Amy is my best friend and Kenneth is my lover. They know, and once in a while I can talk to them about it, but I know that friends can only take so much before they are tired of hearing it. The only person that would listen to everything you said and be interested was a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I’ve thought about going to one, but it’s really too expensive. So I just don’t let myself think about things most of the time.
I keep this journal and write my thoughts down, and that helps a little. Most of the time I’m fine, but it’s always there, hanging over me. Actually, I function very well. I graduated in the top five percent of my high school class, and after a year at junior college I have a 3.8 average. And I’ve never gotten into any serious trouble at all. I’m what grandmothers like to call a “lovely girl.” On the outside. Happy? What did happiness ever have to do with any of my fucking life choices?