Tag Archives: different

Fine by Me.

(Continued from March 4th, 2012.)

At first, she said, sure:  The lake would be “fine”.  She went there a lot anyway, especially in the summer, with her books, only to fall asleep under their inky tents pitched over her face.  The strangers, if they were to walk by, could probably tell what she was surviving, based on the titles under which she napped, giving up on her consciousness all to readily.  From Goodbye, Mr. Chips to Goodbye, Columbus.  (She must’ve had a hunch about all the departures she was about to endure).  Then, at twelve years old, only two quarters after she got her period, she slept with The Woman Who Gave Birth to Her Mother.  That shit was written like fiction and she felt the anger swelling, beyond control for the first time since her mother had ran off:  anger — at all of those fuckers who managed to wedge their lives into an arc of a neat story, with lame metaphors and cute closures.  All so fucking neat, with a ribbon on top!

Her life was not like that at all.  But then, Forgive but Never Forget was even worse; while Zen and the Art of Love had her stoned on the dullness of someone’s clinical explanation of the pure chaos she had always thought human emotions to be.  (But maybe she was just different.)  The Power of Now — who wrote that shit?! — made her ravenous with envy at those whose nows were tolerable enough to want to be IN them.  But still, she could always have books.  It was the only thing on which she had learned to rely, the only journey she could actually choose for herself; and she would secretly crave, upon every first sentence of every newly picked-up tome, that it would speak to her in her own language; just so that she could nod and slap its pages:  I know EXACTLY what that feels like!

By the time this kid came along — lanky and greenish-white, like one of those strange tropical insects that trembled at the slightest breeze, along with the stems against which it camouflaged itself — she had entertained a sliver of amusement:  What in the world was he planning to do with her?  It wasn’t even about the matter of her substance — but all about THE matter.  Her matter.  Her body.  If you have a body — you must matter.  Well, ain’t that a crack o’ shit?

She knew she wasn’t a stunner.  Not by any means.  But with what was given to her — she knew what to do quite well.  It had to have come from her mother, this awareness of her appeal, the sweet ‘n’ sour smell of her own sex.  Her shit wasn’t abrasive like that heavy decor she had seen her contemporaries wear, whenever they stopped by the diner after a night of clubbing.  She would be working a graveyard shift, serving mostly the exhausted truck drivers who, having ran off and driven away from their troubles, now couldn’t stop running; and they watched her with their sad golden retriever eyes, as she poured them refills of bitter coffee and seconds of tenderness.  When the uptight cops accompanied by their boisterous rookies, horny on their illusions of power, came in, a difficult silence would cover the whole place like a dome.  Even if just for a minute, everyone got quiet, which made her think that in life, no one was really innocent.  No one — was clean.  (But still, shouldn’t her mother have given up on the idea of being entitled to happiness?)

Right around three in the morning, the young came in, with their tipsy laughter and entitled cravings.  This is where the boys usually closed their deals, taking their prey home.  Or not.  Somehow, all that trying made her nose itch with the reek of despair.  Her own thing was made of simplicity; and in simplicity, one never had to find herself embarrassed:  for doing too much, for going out on the limb way-way too far.  For the despair, for the loneliness; for the need — to matter.  Besides:

Sex was easy.  Staying — was hard.

But, she said, sure.  The lake would be “fine”.  (It would be a downgrade from finding herself alone there, she suspected immediately after agreeing.  But still, it would be “fine”.  For now.)

The kid gulped.  “Cool…  Um, yeah…”  He scanned her face, nearly shivering from surprise:  Was she just fuckin’ fucking with him?

She push-pinned her pupils into his:  Sure you can hack this, buddy?  His eyes seemed incapable of sitting still in their orbits.  She just noticed that.  Bad vibe.  A red flag.  Intuition activated.

But fuck it!  “The lake would be fine.”

“Well, cool.  Yeah.  Um, tell you what:  I’ll call yah on Saturday, yeah?”  (Stumbling over his words, he’d won himself some time to get his cool back.  He was grooving now.)  “We’ll set something into motion.”  (Sorta.)

It had to be hard:  to see this much, to understand so much.  But she wouldn’t know any different.  She seemed to have been born with no skin in between her and the rest of it all.  Even as a kid, she remembered feeling people even before they opened their mouths and convoluted her intuition with their noise.  So, she went into her books:  Was there — or had there ever been — anyone else like this?  But after she woke up to her father, weeping on the doormat, one morning — a man broken, the consequences of his goodness discarded — and after she joined him there and cradled his graying head in the dusty footprints of her departed mother, she assumed that the two of them were just born different from the rest.  But they had each other.  And she would always have her books.

She scanned her inners for that same sensation:  The heavy warmth of maternity she had previously felt toward some of her lovers.  Nope.  None.  The kid left her cold.  Outside the phases of having to work, work, work — then to recuperate — she felt nothing.  And as she watched him limp away, with not even a look in a departing cliche over his shoulder, “It is all way too easy,” she thought.  So, when did it turn so hard?

 

Shit.  Well, that’s cool…  I guess.  She said, “Yeah.”

(Fuck!  I was totally wrong!  This chick’s got lower self-esteem than I thought.)

Swelling.  This is good.

But what’s good for me — is not so good for the bitches.  I build myself up on the parts I borrow.  I take.  They call it “love”, them silly broads; I call it rehab.  I’m just taking back what was taken from me.  (Thanks, mom.)

I take my power back.  That way, if a broad ever leaves me, she won’t have much to go around after.  She won’t move on undamaged into the arms of the next guy.  Fuck THAT shit!  ‘Cause I leave a mark, man.  I make myself indispensable.  So, it’s a win-win for me:  I feel better — she feels like shit.  That’s the only way I know.

True that:  Sometimes, I wish I could just disappear.  Make a shit load of money and go away.  I could just live on my couch then, with my TV, and my health food and internet porn.  Eat well, sleep forever, get other suckers to serve me.  I could then buy myself pussy whenever I wanted, then kick it to the curb.  I wouldn’t have to work for it any more.

(I mean it actually would’ve been better, as Ashley said in her last text, if I weren’t born at all.  But it’s not like I had a choice in the matter, hon.  So, instead, I get myself what I want, at whatever price.  I weave the lies, tell ‘em what they wanna hear.  I can even make my shrink’s eyes bulge out with my stories.  I can say anything to a broad to get her, and she can keep coming around until I start picking up on the hints of her attachment.  Then, it’s over, man.  Like, A-SAP!  No one gets hurt.  Well.  Maybe, she gets hurt, but how’s that my problem?  I’m just taking what’s mine.  I’m taking what was never given to me.  And I get my revenge.)

(Except.  Ashley.  Ash.  How could she erase me like that?  As if I weren’t born at all?)

But this one said, “Yeah.”  “Fine,” she said.

“A Small Fir-Tree Was Born in the Forest.” (Russian Folk Song)

She was encouraged to grow up as tall as her father and to smell like her beautiful mama, even if she was ever caught in the midst of a drought.

“Because that’s what we, pine trees, do, my little one,” her mama told her.  “And if you grow up particularly pretty, they might choose you, in the middle of next winter.”

“Who are ‘they’?” the baby tree would ask, every year.  (Like all children, she liked her favorite stories repeated to her, endlessly.)

“The unrooted ones,” mama would whisper and sway to block the tiny dust clouds heading into her child’s hair — with her long, long limbs.

Oh, no!  She wouldn’t grow up to be an ordinary tree, her mama gossiped to other mothers.  Her daughter was meant to be unique.  First of, she was gaining inches day by day.

“The taller you grow, the sooner the unrooted ones will get you!”

And:  She was pretty!  Such a pretty baby tree:  with long, dark green needles that weighed down her lean branches toward the ground!  All the other kids seemed to have upright branches.  Their needles lined up into mohawks and made them more susceptible to storms.  When winds gained speed, or rain began to pound the soil above her roots, she seemed to endure it all with grace.  Light on her feet, she would let whatever weather run its moods through her hair; and after every type of precipitation, she made tiny slides for the rascal raindrops.  The little ones would chirp and tumble into one another; hang onto the very edge of her needles, then leap onto the next one — and repeat.

She didn’t know where the rascal raindrops would go once they rolled off her long hair and hit the ground; but she imagined they built tunnels in the soil and lived there, with their families (but after they would fall in love, of course).

One time, though, she questioned her own theory when a particularly familiar rascal raindrop appeared her eyelash, after she awoke from her impatient dreams:

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” she asked the sparkling babe.  But he was already chirping too loudly to hear her question; and as soon as the other kids woke up, he began to slide, slowly at first and on his belly, with his arms outstretched forward.  The further he slid, the more rascals joined him, and they would go faster, laugh — louder; and their chirping made her tilt her branches even lower and give the kids a bigger thrill.

“Maybe,” she thought, “they all fly up to the sun instead — to tell its rays to be a bit gentler on us.”

(Drought — was told to be her only fear.  Besides that — she had none.)

Sometimes, she would get the glimpse of the unrooted ones.  A particular one continued coming around too early in the mornings; so, most of the time, she would sleep right through his visits.  One day, though, he came up to her and woke her up with his shadow.

He was taller than her, but not as tall as mama.  He had flat hair, the color of a sickly pine.  It was flat and so dense, it clung to his trunk in one single layer.

“What a strange creature!” the baby tree thought.

“Don’t!  Slouch!” she heard her mama whisper through her teeth.  She snuck a peak:  Mama looked sleepy and wet.  But she would NOT shake off her raindrops yet:  Because she wanted for all of the unrooted one’s attention to go — to her child.

Would that be it?  Is that how it would happen:  The moment when she would be taken away to the magical place from where other pine trees never-ever returned?  It had to be wonderful there, she thought.  Oh, how she craved to travel!

She let the unrooted one pet her hair.  He made an unfamiliar noise and bent down to her.  A little current of air brushed against her branch.  The unrooted one repeated the noise and petted her, again.

She then noticed he had a patch of different-colored needles on his tree top.  They were the color of gray snow (like sleeping raindrops).  Then, he went back to giving her a treat that smelled absolutely atrocious but mama said it had to be good for her.  So, she closed her eyes and sucked it all up, to the last stinky bit.  She would behave and do whatever the main unrooted one would want her to do.  Whatever it would take — to get her to that place.

There were some stories she’d overheard from the elders.  Some said that unrooted ones took them to more delicious soils.  Others mentioned that they would only feed them water, in that place — and that was truly strange.  But the common truth was that the chosen ones got to wear pretty things and learn how to sparkle.

“Like the rascal raindrops?” the baby tree would ask her mama.

“Much better, baby girl!” her mama said.  “Much better!”

“Can I Take You Home — To MY House?”

It was a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight.  There were no other signs, just my own prior knowledge, but I was sure the room was located upstairs.

Or, it could have been one of those houses that sits on stilts in my grandfather’s village.  There seems to be no natural reason for such a structure:  The inland area at the foot of an ancient mountain knows no floods.  There are no rivers that run by it, and the winters tend to be brutally dry and viciously cold.  But when the snow melts, it turns the ground into mush; yet, no river banks can be feared to overflow.  The thick, purple layer of evergreens that covers the sides of the dormant mountain holds its outer layers in place, and I have never heard of mudslides or earthquakes in the entire history of the family.  If anywhere else, there, in the middle of Russia, nature is obedient and tamed.

There was always a calm flow of hours whenever I came to town.  There would be bickering between the two sides of the family, and that would be the only noise I’d hear for days:  The Russian whites on my father’s side would find the brown tint of my skin somewhat scandalous.  My brown motha’s blatant sexuality didn’t help the matters either.  The matriarchs — the mother of the family and her only daughter (a matriarch-in-training) — would always insist on accompanying me in public.

But the town would be calm, and with an exception of an occasion hushing down of the old women, flocking benches at any hour of the day, I saw no outwardly confrontations.  And even those women would express their aggression with silence and gossip, to which I wouldn’t be made privy, because it would unfold behind my brown back.  This was no place for verbal confrontations or domestic fights.  An occasional drunken brawl would be talked about for months.

And then, everything would return back — to silence!

In a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight that’s possible only in August, there was a circle of mismatching furniture:  An old couch with wooden arms and flowery pattern of its material; an armchair of dark blue velvet, worn out and soiled in its folds.  A wooden barstool was covered with a crocheted throw of fluffy, egg-foam-colored thread.  And there was a rocking chair occupied by the ghost of my grandfather — the only member of the family who was always openly thrilled by the fact that I stuck out in all their photographs.

They were all blue-eyed, tall and sinewy; and in every picture, they stood behind me like a white backdrop.  I would look at the lens from underneath my bushy eyebrows, with eyes so dark, no camera could distinguish the ending to my pupils.  And above my serious, mismatching face, I would be balancing a cloud of messy hair, which, before the flash went off, had been aimed at by one of the matriarchs’ hands and yanked into a careless ponytail.

(Looking back at these photos, you can already see that my body would belong to neither my motha’s clan — a curvatious creature of wild nature — nor to the shared lean physique of the white matriarchs.  I would be somewhere in the middle:  My adolescent frame would already exhibit some softness, but the brown legs, darkened by my chronic solitary play in dirt fields and haystacks, belonged to someone who knew how to run.)

Sylvie Guillem by Richard Avedon

In the sunlit living-room, one of those hand-woven rugs took up the middle section of the floor.  On it, I would be permitted to play, occasionally, after the matriarchs confirmed that there was no work left to be done around the house.  Still, I would hide out, until my grandfather’s return.  Like me, he would be ushered out of the kitchen by the women; and while he watched TV, I finally felt safe to bring my toys out of their hiding places and spread them out at his feet, upon one of those hand-woven rugs.

There was no eating on the floor.  No eating was permitted anywhere but the kitchen and the garden bench.  At times, the old man and I would sneak behind the house and curb our appetite with fresh cucumbers or a few unwashed tomatoes.

“It tastes better this way,” my grandfather would wink at me while polishing the giant berry on against the cloth of his knee.

But seeing a skeptical glimmer from underneath my bushy eyebrows, the old man would reaffirm:

“You get all the natural vitamins when the tomato is unwashed.  Trust me.”

The secret would be to chomp it down quickly, before the matriarchs came out to the garden to collect some scallions or a bouquet of dill for the dinner salad.  So, we would climb back up the stairs (the house sat on stilts, remember?); and reassume our positions of most safety:  His — dozing off in his rocking chair, and mine — conducting stories upon a hand-woven rug.

But in my last night’s dream, the wide living-room, luminous with August sunlight, was filled with other people.  They were loud and beautiful; and they laughed with such violent joy, I noticed the open windows of the house and the shimmering dust suddenly visible in that angle of the sun.  We would be heard, I realized; and what would happen to the silence so strictly protected by the locals — it, at times, eliminates all life?

The beautiful people kept laughing, though.  The women with golden hair intertwined their limb in ways that only women do with each other:  with an intimacy that comes with tenderness and, most importantly, a lack of angst.  The children straddled the wooden arms of the couch; climbed onto the women’s knees and crawled all over their feet.

My grandfather’s chair sat empty.  I watched it from the corner of the room, where I had wedged myself in under an armpit of a tall man with laughing eyes.  He, too, was in on the joke; and he kept shooting over loving gazes my way that seemed to say that I was the pun of it.

Is this what families are supposed to look like?  Is this the way I wanted mine — to feel?

I had so little to remember them by, that all I seemed to want to keep was the empty rocking chair and my grandfather’s ghost.  The rest was up for my rewriting.