More than a little death

Sometimes I go to speak but what is there is death. These times fill me with dread of other times in the future, when I must watch others squirm.

These breaks between my thoughts are more than silences. In silence, thoughts still move – restless, alive, uncertain. Thoughts might be tyrants, or floods. Awkwardness can fall over the quiet, but enough air or momentum remains for the conversation to change direction, for the blockage to be overcome.

These little deaths seem to be without cure, or of course, they would be silences. My mind, like a fitful computer, seems to shut off without warning in these times. I think you could argue it is some form of catatonia. Perhaps a depression, or an outburst from the unconscious so heinous it attacks the structure or poise of my mind.

But since I am without thoughts, I am without memory of those times. I merely see them recorded on other faces. I would call it a seizure, but I have seized before, and the experience was different.

When I seized I flew in some endorphin field. The bright lights of the classroom receded into my mind and I felt an orgasmic blankness in this world beyond feeling.

I don’t know where I go when my thoughts die. Perhaps that’s what concerns me most and I am embarrassed to escape the velocity of my mind for a nowhere place like death.

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Liv

When I leave my body, she is one place that I go. She is driving a car. The car looks like my old Toyota, but it smells like iron or blood instead of stale coffee. We are speeding on a New England highway, in winter, with the windows open.

Streetlights flicker as they pass above us, bringing the same shine to the ice and to the car’s steel. It’s familiar, exhilarating to be free. I see her shiver in thin clothing, but we are indifferent to the body’s concerns.

There is one, holy power of mind – the will. It is our bending trajectory through the night. I am scared. I know we will not slow. I am afraid the night or the cops will take us – they are cold steel and ‘order.’

She turns on the radio, and the volume is an energy without sense. There might be homes on the side of the highway. People sit before their televisions, burrow into dull lives. We don’t care. There are streetlights. We don’t care.

Thrilling, my heart. She is part of my rising spirit, the one that survives, that tramples those other ephemeral lives. Worst of all, she is real, living and feeding and fucking. Delivering tirades to the masses on YouTube, the masses who cannot keep pace. We accelerate.

The Easiest Holiday Ever

I spent the week before Christmas bracing for impact. My body, my skin, my lifestyle, my hair color, my laugh are laid out on holidays beside the turkey, the wine, the dessert and coffee. And every comment seems to cut so close; I spend the next months recovering, confidence rebounding when I’m alone again.

But this year – not so. The comments emerge and they die without setting off the powder keg of my insecurities. I’m in disbelief – something will happen, something will be said that I haven’t thought of yet.

Since we are not at home, nothing is familiar. Wandering the tropical landscape, I think we’ve forgotten the holiday.

I ask my father about his favorite Christmas song, and he says “the Mariah Carey one.” Which interests me like a piece of trivia. And other innocuous questions follow. My family and I, like curious strangers.

But something must happen, I think. The sense of foreboding prevents me from relaxing into this limbo of polite family relations.

But maybe this is the new normal. Maybe we’ll be polite, forever skating across each other’s surfaces, with our ties deepening through years rather than moments. I think I would prefer the weight of history to the energy of conflict. A family that is even as a table. I could lay there, comfortably.

Childhood Swan Song

At fourteen, in a compulsory annual meeting with my guidance counselor, I felt a frustration that worked its way into my mind and habits.

He fell into a practiced speech, listing the requirements for graduation, noting my successful completion of my classes and giving me my schedule. I nodded to him, I stared out into the circular courtyard beyond his office, and up at the sky. I watched his pupils dilate as he spoke from the light coming in from the window.

I knew I was supposed to feel that enclave-feeling of protection. For once, I was supposed to have an ear in which to pour the accumulating thoughts and insecurities. But I hesitated. I was not certain how this put-together man in his forties would understand that I was dating another fourteen year old girl in my class. What could he tell me about her expectations of me? Would he redden or feel attraction, or hate? I would wonder similar things as I sat through three more of these meetings.

Once, after a student in my class died in a car accident, I sent him a frustrated email and his response was “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know a child has died?” He followed his response with a more polite apology, describing the stress of meetings with the child’s parents and friends.

I knew Mike was dead. He was in my second-grade art class, and his mother made him wear turtlenecks then. That was before he got into motocross and switched out of Honors classes. I cried remembering him how he used to pick his nose.

I always felt raw. I wanted breaks from classes and meetings where my somnambulation was all that was required.

When I got my counselor’s first email, my face flushed. But my body felt relief; I knew something genuine, and I knew I was wrong.

Gingerbread

After the trees drop their leaves, and we drift back into our houses, the space heater comes out. It is Japanese, and from the ’80s.

Heralding the winter, this warm angel fills the house with an electric churning sound. It bares its grated face to the living room. The flame trapped inside it rises and falls like a licking tongue.

At four or five I would lay down in front of it. Close to the noise and warmth, I felt the mechanical curiosity that Victorians had for steam engines – an awe of electric lights and of the science of assembly.

About this time, my mother and I made croissants, not realizing it takes a full 24-hours. We got impatient, microwaved the butter (a horrible mistake) and mixed it in with all of the other ingredients. We made buttery rocks. And at the end, we both confessed to being entirely nonplussed as to why our failure to follow the recipe led us astray. Everything was measured correctly, anyways.

After one or two attempts to eat what we made, I took the rest of our creations outside to the backyard, and a stretch of forest beyond. I was feeding the animals, my mother said. I took care in arranging the pastries, thinking about where the birds or foxes might find them.

Christmas came and went and towards the beginning of February, when the snow melted and re-froze, my mother decided to make gingerbread. Spices and molasses, butter and flour became brown sheets.

When she was finished my mother brought out cookie cutters of cupids and angels. “These cookies are for your father for Valentine’s Day,” Mom said. “Ok,” I said. And we cut cupids out of the brown sheets, and my mom cut small circles in their heads. We strung red ribbons through their heads and hung a chain of cookies from the ceiling. A few times we had to reinforce the tape sticking the ribbon to the ceiling.

She made so many cookies we had to put them in the Tupperware with the tan lids – the big ones used for holidays.

When my Dad came that weekend, he laughed at the string of cookies. “What’s this?” he asked. “Mom made them,” I said. “They’re cookies. They’re for you!”

“Why did you make gingerbread?” he asked Mom. She showed him the recipe book, with the photographs – “Yes, but why gingerbread?” he continued, “Have I ever told you that I like gingerbread?”

“I like gingerbread,” I said.

My Dad grabbed three cookies and moved to the couch. He had at least one cupid and at least one angel – a good variety.  He stopped mid-mouthful. “Elch,” he said. “These are horrible! They taste like cardboard. Just get rid of them now.”

Mom looked at me. “But we had some earlier…” “Yes Daddy,” I said, “I had milk too.”

“You crazy?” he said. “I bet even the birds wouldn’t eat these things. They’ll be in the backyard for ages.” I thought of our angels all over the snow. It made me sad.

A few days later Mom told me to take the cookies out to the backyard. Dad wouldn’t eat them and sometimes on the phone he would say things like, “Fucking Martha Stewart – what man wants to come home to a chain of cardboard angels!” The people on the other end would laugh, usually.

I put our angels on the snow. For the first time I thought about how dark we would all look against the clouds of heaven. I was pinkish, but everyone is tan compared with white.

It did not make me happy to think about the animals, but I made sure the angels were faced up and not touching one another, in case it was a sin to do otherwise.

Singularity

I am a blue dot. Or a red dot, depending on the day.

I can be seen moving down a sidewalk that is grey; against a backdrop that is of brick or steel or glass rectangles or squares.

No matter the effort I expend when choosing the blue dress, the red shirt, the brown pants, I am one dot among many dots lining the city streets.

When I came here, I did not feel the horror, the ‘inhumanity’ of being passed by unknown faces, traveling their own conveyor belts. I did not become a stranger by boarding a plane, or by arriving, or by settling where I settled – just off the green line, a few blocks south from the top of the park.

No matter how well we think we are known, we are determined anonymously.  Our choices did not accumulate, instead falling like rain on a surface. We carry out no destiny from pure decision; we did not choose the arrangements of our faces.

When I look into the grey eyes of the doctors, the bankers, the lawyers, I imagine some genetic sculptor planning shoulders that will fill a suit, or a pair of scrubs nicely. At some social manufactory, my sculptor obeys the dimensions of patterns for secretaries and presidents. And he takes naps he cherishes his own singularity.

Portrait

My cousin posted a picture of my mom at the holidays. In the picture, Mom stares out the window, past the porch of our childhood home, into the woods.

Mom’s hair is grey and sun blonde now. Without resting, she rests her chin on her hand. Her eyes squint as if she’s staring into a floodlight, or as if she is in pain.

Maybe we, my brother, my sister and I, are the sources of her pain. Maybe we stare her down from memory. Or maybe it’s from some deeper source: from the rise of her expectations, from their friction with each sight and sound – each the evidence of the world’s violation.

Her face is thin and tired beneath the tan. Her expression is without demand. When she yelled or tried to implement rules, she would fail by breaking them herself. And she only tried when she was angry, when the world disagreed and she felt it.

And she was forgetful. We would come home to locked doors and snow, more than once climbing in through the bathroom window. We were blamed for the snow on the bathroom floor and for the heat bill.

Perfume in the stale, old-food smell of the minivan and the warmth from the dashboard fans in winter. She drove me to ballet or hiphop on Saturday mornings. I see her wide eyes in the rearview mirror, her lips smacking, applying an umber shade of lipstick. Her image is infused and I will not forget it.