Sometimes life is so hard it’s a wonder that it doesn’t grind you down to bone.
I am tempted just to let that one sentence stand, alone and unexplained, in the sea of words your monitors proffer up every day. I don’t want to have to explain myself to all of you, each and every time you visit; I want you to come here and by some magical brain osmosis understand that I’m spinning out or I’m bathed in joy or I am so twitchy that it’s all I can do to manage turning on a computer. I don’t want to proffer up my guts, steaming and sometimes unrecognizable to even me, when I’ve no idea what else to do; I want you to get me in such a way that no amount of words could, would or should be necessary.
But me? I’m sick with this thing called language: The words bounce around fevered in my brain, commanding sentences and phrases to be regurgitated up from my middle, all these letters that went in perfectly formed and come back out in an acrid, acidic multisyllabic scramble. With me, this communication-thing is just as instinctive as the hunger for air, for food, for sex. It’s near-primordial.
So I can’t put it all on you. And, being reasonable, I can’t expect you not to feed when I set the table. And, as I am told that I’m a (mostly) sane and (sometimes) rational person, I *certainly* cannot expect you all to lay fingertips to screen, chant ‘Ohhhhhhmmmmm’, pick up my vibe and surf away into the sunset. But don’t discount that happening in the next couple of decades, All You Interwebnetses Poepels.
All this is not to say that I begrudge our relationship, readerwriter and writerreader, so please don’t take umbrage here. (And if you’re here taking umbrage? Lord, please go the fuck away and try not to come back real soon.) It’s just that some of the things I’m compelled to put to paper or screen or the palm of my hand are just like self-flagellation, but in an instinctive, compulsive way. I don’t always want to do it, but I feel I always have to.
There you have it. The most honest sentence about the writing process that has ever escaped my fingertips. Enjoy.
Despite the fact that I’ve always written, from the time I could hold a pencil and command simple sentence structure (long about the age of three? mebbe), it’s only been since I’ve had this medium to work in that I understand my relationship with words, understand their power over me and through me. I now know that without the process of writing, I would likely be quite mad, doing horrible things to myself or perhaps others. I have realized, first and foremost, that by the time I get to the point of writing about an event in my life –until I can and do write about it/through it, rather– I’ve not fully processed it; the writing of it, the sorting it out on paper, is the final step to laying something down in my spirit and making my peace with it. And also, lest we forget, the final step in fully acknowledging it, the role it has in my life and the shaping of me as a person.
Yesterday, by most accounts, was a pretty good day. It started with a slight foreshadowing, but mostly rocked along in a positive manner. Long about seven in the evening there came a sledgehammer blow and an hour later came another, and the night found me out in my driveway, staring up at the moon all deadfaced because that’s all I had in me to do.
My alarm was set for six, and as I am prone to doing, I lie there in my bed –my refuge– for a few minutes before even attempting to set feet to floor. Out of nowhere, the bottom fell out and it was raining, hard and insistent, the fat and rapid drops singing off of the patio flagstones; it was such a blessedly wanted and welcome sound that I decided to set the alarm for an hour and a half later, gymming on lunch instead of pre-work as is the usual custom.
When I headed for the bath later, there was a slight drip-drip noise just outside my bedroom door and a small, splishy puddle on the delightfully retroflecked linoleum of the family room. A leak. The joys of owning a huge, rambley, fifties-built home. Not panicked at all, I matter-of-factly sailed through the dining room and kitchen and into the utility room to fetch a small bucket. When I drew back the sash door separating the kitchen from the utility room, I was pulled up short by what amounted to a small pond across the cement floor (thank God we’ve not redone the floors in there yet). This was not the most alarming part. The most alarming, panic-inducing part was the fact that the puddle was emanating from the light fixture overhead. I mean, I’m no expert or anything, but I’m pretty sure that I should have been having a batch of kittens over the fact that water was not only pouring through the ceiling, but it was pouring through via an electrical fixture into a room FULL of massive (refrigerator, deep freezer, washer, dryer) electrical appliances.
The biggest response from me, though, was a deepish sort of sigh as I killed the juice and went fishing (HA! FISHING, HA!) in the storage closet for a cooler to align under the light’s spill. I wasn’t even all that moved, much less panicked, but I do indeed recall noting the irony of going to retrieve a bucket for a small leak and finding a near-lake at the source of the small-puddle remedy. My brain sort of drew three strong lines under that, in fact, and put a decisive period behind it. In black Sharpie marker.
I went on to scrub teeth and face and body, to exfoliate and moisturize and perfume, to paint and drape and shod. I went through my day pleasantly enough, trading jabs and laughs with patients and coworkers and friends, picked up children, came home to family and extended family and a waiting table laden with good food and wine and love.
As we were putting a wrap on dinner –after the children had been excused for baths and social lives– and there were only adults ringing the large square expanse of warm cherry to conversate and fondle the stems of my favorite goblets, I got a call. It was Tess. “The sheriff just left. They found Beryl an hour ago. She shot herself.”
You are due some background, precious and fair reader. I do this sometimes, I sit on something very tender long enough to prepare myself for the recounting of it. Sometimes something occurs to push it to the foreground before I’m quite nerved up enough and ready to tear off the band-aid.
Two years ago, on the fourth of July, there was a picnic in a park a handful of miles from here. The picnic was to honor a much-decorated soldier, one who’d gone off to war twice and one who loved –and in return, was loved by– his men and his woman and his kids and his extended family. He could be honestly classified as One of The Good Ones you hear about from time to time, they who live their lives quietly and well and mostly uneventfully by their own accounts. So we laughed and ate ribs and pies and played ball and later under the bold stars seated in unassuming darkness we caught fireflies with the wee ones and, even later into the night, shot firework cannon after firework cannon, our faces bathed in electric yellows and greens and blues.
He was called to war again, this man of the military career, and that was hard in its own way because his daughter was due to marry in the fall. On the fourth of July, one full year after the picnic in his honor in the heart of a little Alabama town full of Just Plain Folk, the soldier died and his family was broken; this was in part because they were so fiercely devoted to one another, in part because they were not there at his passing and in part because he was the Great White Hope, the Farm Boy Done Good, the Hometown Boy Gone To God.
This man was Tess’ biggest brother. Tess had that role that always seems to fall primarily to one child, even though there were four others to choose from: She, the youngest of them all, shored up her mother.
Last month we went to an outdoor music festival. At its close, they shot fireworks up and over the river. Me, I sprawled out in all sorts of crazy fashions trying to catch something, anything, with the calculated lens of my camera. When it was all over, when the four of us girls sat later in the booth, martini bowls as big as our faces in front of all of us, two of our compatriots excused themselves to the restroom.
“I thought that was going to kill me,” Tessa said to me.
“The last time I saw fireworks was at the park, the picnic for Gibby.”
“God, Tess, I’m so sorry. I didn’t even think….”
“How could you have? You can only know which dots are connected back to that when I point them out to you. They start at MY insides.”
I still felt like Grade-A Prime Asshole. I catch all these subtle nuances that never even ping anyone else’s radar. This is all the time; I’m made crazy with profound realization on a constant basis. I fully and roundly suck at scooping up the obvious. Maybe that’s why I’m not exactly great with The Subtle myownself.
For the rest of the month we waited with collectively-held breath, Tess and me, dreading the upcoming holiday and what it might bring for her mother. See, Tess’ momma and daddy have become my momma and daddy by extension; they have loved me and petted me and scolded me and just simply been in my own mother and father’s absence. From the minute that Tess presented me to them, “Here is someone I adore,” they have made it their job to give a damn about me openly and consciously. They are remarkably like my own people, salt of the earth and passionate and wicked-smaaaaaht in that dirt-raised way that is so fucking valuable in this world of oversated nincompoops.
Tess worried wordlessly on how her mother would fuck out and how she would hold her up and I in turn worried wordlessly on how this would fuck Tessa Nicole out and in what manner I might hold her up as needed. We wasted a lot of quiet adrenaline, it seems: The fourth passed without event, and passed quite happily, at that.
Whewww, we breathed silently, that went okay.
Beryl was the second-born, just after Gibby. There has been trouble for the last year. This is a theme I’ve seen repeated as of late: One sibling goes, some of the rest come unseated in strange ways as a result. Oddly enough, I think maybe witnessing it in some acquaintances and not-as-close friends was meant to somehow prepare me in this situation where I’m closer to the middle of things.
So there has been trouble and this trouble culminated in Beryl being on the run, despite the demands/pleas of family and advice of counsel. And today, Beryl is dead, supposedly by her own hand. That bit of it feels sketchy to me, so don’t be surprised if I report to you later, THIS WAS A MURDER, AND DIDN’T I FUCKING CALL JUST ONE MORE GRIM HUMAN STATISTIC, OH DIDN’T I?? Because I’m good on the Grim Human Statistics, y’all. Roundly, grossly, morbidly good…just ask anyone who really, really knows me.
A mere hour after I got Tess’ initial call and some thirty minutes after our guests had been seen off, I spoke with my mother. Not far into the call, she cracked and broke all over my left ear. My insides seeped out dread, because my gentle-yet-hickory-tough mother was weeping, something I’ve only witnessed five, maybe six times in my thirty-six years.
My niece, bold and gorgeous and all of eleven. Even in matters of reproduction I bullied my sister: “LOOK,” I said to her on more than one occasion, “I’VE GONE AND MADE YOU AN AUNTIE TWICE-OVER. I WANT TO BE AN AUNT TO SOMEONE. NONE OF THE OTHER SIBS ARE NEARBY; THEY’VE DRAGGED THEIR KIDS ALL OVER THE PLANET. YOU’RE BEHOLDEN TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.”
There are family members that you are more innately connected to over others. Justice is one such person in my life. December of nineteen ninety-five. I flew home to greet her first passage over my mother and daddy’s threshold, driving a hunnert, hunnert-ten most of the way. I kissed her forehead, this little peachy-hued sausage bundle, pronounced her both ‘Blessed’ and ‘Mine’. Words stir things, they do, because while she looks just like my sister, she has the shifting, somewhat remarkable blue of my eyes and her mother is constantly bemoaning the fact that “Oh GOD, SHE’S JUST LIKE BETH, let me TELL YOU what SHE DID TODAY,” to our momma.
Someone has gone and broken my bold, defiant-chinned, knobby-beautied slip of a niece. I don’t know that it’s not irrevocably. You’ll have to forgive my brevity on this one. I’m more than a little gobsmacked. I just don’t have the words and don’t know that I ever, ever will.
My face is often off in the clouds, but I like tangibles: Despite the fact that Tessa and I have spoken several times since last night, I have not yet been able to see her. The office is empty; the doctor is out and there will not be patients until this afternoon. I’m here by myself, and I feel like I need to be with my friend, so I am wearing her her jacket to stave off an inexplicable chill in my bones, speaking over it and into it, the same murmurings I’d speak over and into her were she here.
And, conversely, I’m wrapped in her arms, her chest across mine, soundlessly pulling my pain out in that way she has.
Without her even being here.
A friend called me a few minutes ago, “Um, I’m driving over to pray for my cousin with breast cancer, to minister to her. I need you to pray.” Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s today. She told me about this thing this past weekend.
I am a zombie today, a zombie out here in The World, even though in Cyberia there are reams and reams of words. I didn’t breathe a peep of my own matters. Part of me doesn’t want to go into it all, and part of me just merely does not want to.
“I need you to pray for me before I pray over her.”
A few minutes after that, I called another friend, one of my Best Ones Of All The Best Ones. He lives on the other side of this (sometimes mighty fucking biiiig) world, and he knows my frustrating rhythms, my unreasonable demands and my ridiculous generosities, which –in being consistent with the rest of the Incongruous Me– are flip sides of the same coin. It is the dead of night where he is, but I was hoping against hope that he would pick up, because he is one of the rare people in my life whose voice I can just hear and be easy about Things In General. Mostimes he answers despite the ridiculous hour, and really, shaking him out of sleep is the best way to go about things at times; he hates the telephone, or the Getting On Of It, at least.
He didn’t stir, didn’t answer, but he will be here later to read this, I’m sure. To him I say: I had something along these lines in mind to say to you,
“Do you think you could say something? Do you think you could just fill ten minutes with some words?”
and I could still use a call, unexpected and just simply consisting of a “Oh hello, I miss you, stinkface.” because I’m tying a knot in and hanging on, but you yourself know I’ve been doing that very thing for an ungodly long time and my hands are just shreds, the rope a bloodier, meatier mess the further down the knots go and sometimes I just need you to return the favor and remind me where the God is in all of this. Sometimes I just need you –not to urge me to breathe, but– to be my breath for a minute while my pulse settles and my insides thrum down a bit. And oh my God, do I miss your wide-open and ready laugh when my own hair-trigger one grows quiet.
And also? It’s far past time. I need something tangible.
:: thick face, black heart ::