Tag Archives: entitlement

Trying

(Continued from March 18th, 2012.)

Was it just her, or had life begun to feel like an army of ants crawling through one’s capillaries?  Did enthusiasm eventually give room to tiredness, when overcrowded by one’s disappointments?  She watched the cautionary tale of her mother’s wilted curiosity; sitting in the downward-turned corners of her mouth, waiting to expire, along with the last of her youth?  Waiting —

Until There Was None.

If ever mother had the patience, the awareness and the discipline enough to write her autobiography — for, surely, she had the vanity enough! — that should’ve been its tittle.  Until There Was None.

But the joy:  Where had it gone from her?  There would still be moments of visible glee, some days — a sort of tightly wound hysteria; the same inside job that made her mother’s face quiver and the loose skin of her arms shake after each gesture.  She’d be like that in front of her girlfriends when seeking their alliance via pity; or in front of the 17th Century paintings in the galleries of Eastern Germany.  (Then, she would always speak to Nola, lecturing, lying, not knowing how to stop.)  The sight of it — Nola eventually found herself despising (in men especially, much later):  of something pushing — being pushed — past one’s irritability, beyond the limit of tolerance and truth.  Strained.  Pushed.  Perpetually trying.

Silence and walking away, to Nola, seemed easier.  And it was reasonable, in theory, for people to coexist in a peaceful fulfillment of their basic needs.  But then, they would always tangle themselves up in the ideas of the pursuit of their own happiness, where flaunting of entitlement and justice would become a sport.  The calmness of a grateful life had long surpassed her mother — that woman was way, way far down the line.  And all there was to live by — was a long list of her grievances and other people’s debts.

“You’re just like your father!” her mother threw at Nola, as if being calm and good was somehow indecent.  Once Nola turned twelve, however, there wouldn’t be much left to hurl at her expense.  Because before, when the two women found themselves alone in the house, mom reached for anything to throw:  her father’s rain boots, the ribbed hose from the Soviet-made (read:  nearly useless) washing machine; wet laundry; mom’s patent leather belt from the fur coat that she’d demanded for her thirtieth birthday.

One time, unrooted by her madness, the woman tipped a pot of cold cabbage soup that had been sitting on the stove, waiting for her father’s dinnertime.  She had been panicking in the kitchen — (mom always panicked, in the kitchen) — and when she found her words surpassing their brutality, she speedily relayed her gaze from one sharp object to the next; and after an unsuccessful search, reached up behind and steadily poured the pot of cold liquid onto Nola’s head.  The slimy cabbage crawled under the collar, under the skin; and the orange, chalky layer of frozen oil tangled up in her hair and stayed there for weeks to come.  When finally, most of the liquid hit the floor, Nola looked up:  Not one, but two women stood there, drenched in terrible humiliation.

For the first time, that night, Nola had gone beyond forgiveness.  Mom was susceptible to losing her control, she realized; but from some losses, one could not come back.

“You’re just like her father!”

Blunt objects or her mother’s limbs ungracefully ended their trajectories anywhere along Nola’s small body.  If she tipped over, mom dragger her by the hair to rooms with better lighting, where harsher punishment ensued.  While mother pushed and pushed and pushed — the child stood, or lied still, in silence.  She learned to receive.  She bared.  She endured.  And secretly she hoped that surrender would make her mother slow down.  So visible was mother’s sorrow, so palpable — unhappiness, that from behind the raised arm with which Nola guarded softer places, she pitied her aggressor.  She waited for the feeling of tremendous heat in all the new swellings.  She’d welcome them, eventually giving herself over to resignation, and to sleep.  A strange bliss would be found at the end of every horror.  For one was never given more than one could handle.

 

In those days, Nola still could still portion out the world into manageable pixels.  There would anger.  Disappointments.  A one unhappy woman.  Through repetition, Nola learned that mother’s love was functioning through let down expectations.  If one was loved by her — one owed her, forever.  The closer Nola neared her own womanhood, the more difficult, the more unbearable would become that love — and debt; until one day, none in her family could ever able undo, unsay the things that they had thrown at each other, in an attack or self-defense.  And in the loss of reason between all cause and effect, it would begin to feel like pure insanity.

And then, one summer, mom had admitted herself to a resort on the Ukrainian Republic’s shore, famous for housing patients of political insanity and tuberculosis.  She dropped off Nola at the house of her in-laws, called up her husband and said that she had lost the sight of “her own woman”, and that she was going away, to find her self, for an indefinite amount of time.

Unheard of!  Scandal!  Her father’s mother ranted for about a week.  But quite quickly, the old woman focused on saving the family’s face and made up more suitable stories about her daughter-in-law’s passage.

“Yeah, a bleeding ulcer.  I know:  that poor thing!  She hadn’t eaten for a month!”

“A teacher’s conference attended by the Ministry of Education.  She’s getting a Hero of Labor.”

But in her own house, behind her mother’s back, the old woman talked.  She called her names for every single time she found Nola staring out of the window or writing letters to no address that mother left behind.

“A flea-ridden bitch — that’s what that woman is!” the old woman muttered on repeat, when she discovered a clump of tangled hair above the nape of Nola’s neck which Nola harvested for nearly a year by then.  The knot had grown so large, that during the summer, she began to pin her grandma’s rhinestone brooches into it.

No remedy was masterful enough to get that thing out!  Lord knows, grandma tried!  The naked old woman labored and puffed in the wet steam of her bathhouse, her deflated breasts flapping above Nola’s shoulders, like freshly baked Georgian lavashes.  After two hours of brushing, oiling, lathering; of pulling and of being pulled; of swearing, sweating, renouncing; and baring and receiving — the hair had to be cut out; and Nola walked away with half of it missing from the back of her head and a headache that took days to sleep off.

The story tilted then.  Inside her family, she never would be able to find much calm.  That night, unable to find a spot on her scalp that wasn’t raw and throbbing, with the face down in her pillow, Nola would begin to plot her own escape, with or without her hair.

 

And now, here it was:  Her thick and magical, red hair!  It had began to slip out of its follicles and clog up all the drains in the apartment; and after every shower, the water drained slowly, allowing for the soap scum to settle on the walls of her tub, like growth rings on a cut down tree.

Must color mother’s hair, she decided.  The shower head was dripping at an even pace against the standing pool of water, in the bathroom.  Mom lost all memory.  Her dignity did not belong to her.  It mattered to the living though — to those who were living, trying, still — so, Nola owed someone that.

“A Rusty Heart Starts to Whine, in Its Telltale Time…”

“That’s just UNACCEPTABLE!”

He was foaming at his mouth, at the front desk.

A little man.

His face, red from a lifetime of terrible diet, was boiling with outrage.  Everything in the world seemed to have gone askew for him; and overhearing the routine of his ready complaints, I could tell this was not the first time he ever voiced his grief.

Quietly, I slipped past the heavy doors of this mountain spa resort and I lingered by the doormat.  I had come here for silence.  It wasn’t really the noise of all the others left back in LA-LA that I minded.  They could just go on and on, for all I cared, about their dreams and their sex lives.  About their dreams of better sex lives.  As a matter of fact, I preferred they went on and on:  It gave me something to write about, during the day.

But the noise in my own head was rattling my balance with an ache:

Survival.  Dignity.  Freedom.  Art.

“I DEMAND my refund — or you’re gonna have to talk to my lawyer!” the little man was getting carried away with the routine of his ready complaints.

I had always wondered what it was like to live one’s life by fronting.  It sucked, I recently thought, that we all had one hell of a time negotiating our boundaries with other people.  I wished it didn’t have to be so strained, so testy.  Couldn’t we just leave each other enough space and air:  Enough dignity?  Enough freedom?  But this clan of others that lived their lives by fronting: It must be miserable to be perpetually expecting some sort of injustice.

Still though:  I was fascinated.  So, I lingered by the doormat.

A couple of drinkers hanging at the bar shot their confused glares in the direction the front desk:  They would’ve been much more interested in getting involved had they not drank too much free wine at a tasting earlier that night.  Or maybe, just like me, they had come here for silence.  I couldn’t see the bartender.  The lounge was empty.  And the only other civilian caught in the avalanche of the little man’s outrage was the nighttime clerk, at the front desk.

I had seen her early in the morning when I arrived, and she graciously allowed for my early check-in.  Her kind smile reminded me of someone I couldn’t quite remember.  A cloud of curly strawberry-blond hair framed her freckled face, down to her collar bone, and it suited her well.

It suited this place, to where many had come for silence:

Compassion.

“How late is your spa open?” I asked her, at the time.

“It’s open 24/7,” she responded.

I looked up, puzzled.  I had already arrived here with gratitude, and this was causing me a bit of an overload.  She smiled kindly, reminding me of someone I couldn’t quite remember.

“We’re all adults here,” she said.  “Right?”

Now, she was sitting in her chair, looking down at her desk calendar as if meditating.  I realized this entire time the little man had been screaming on an old-fashioned, ivory phone mounted onto the wall.

He, by now, was a goner:

“You know what?!  I’m gonna call THE POLICE!”

The nighttime clerk noticed me, lingering by the doormat, and she smiled kindly.  Bingo!  She reminded me of someone who had helped me once through a transition in LA-LA (of which I had many, in between my needs for silence).

I nodded at the nighttime clerk.  It sucked, I thought, that she was having one hell of a time surviving the avalanche of other people’s entitlements.  And I wished it didn’t have to be so strained for her, so testy.

I smiled, kindly:

Compassion.

“LOOK!” the little man — that poor lost soul! — was now screaming out every word.  “I’VE DONE THIS BEFORE!”

But of course:  Everything in the world must’ve gone askew for him; and overhearing the routine of his ready complaints, I already knew this was not the first time he ever voiced his grief.

“Excuse me?” I said to his wife — a woman a stocky stature — who was blocking the stairway with three giant, overstuffed pieces of luggage, while she lazily scrawled through her BlackBerry messages.

The woman looked up.  I had expected a scowl.  A boiling outrage.  Instead, she looked at me with such a sheepish apology, I wished it didn’t have to be so strained for her, so testy.  And she smiled at me, ever so slightly.  Ever so kindly.

Suddenly, I remembered:  I had seen her earlier, at a seafood restaurant right above the roaring ocean.  All the windows of the place were flung open, and not till later I realized there was no ambiance music to distract us from silence.

It seemed we had all come here — for silence — from the noises in our heads:

Survival.  Dignity.  

Some of us didn’t live our lives by fronting.  Some of us were still prone to gratitude:

Freedom.  Art.

And especially those who got caught in the avalanche of outrages by little men and women — by the poor lost souls — still deserved our:

Compassion.

From a Happy Ending — to Ending Happily

With some couples, it just doesn’t work out.  That’s the sad and unfortunate tale, my darling boys ‘n’ girls — a tale as old as civilization itself — that some relationships never reach their Happily Ever After.  Scratch that:  Some loves don’t even have a remote chance to reach their mid-way potential.  They’re just never meant to.

Because unless a love is on its very first round for both participants who are completely innocent and unscathed, someone steps into it while carrying a load or two of baggage.  Someone’s father didn’t love them enough.  Someone’s mother was a fuck-up.  Someone’s ex mistreated them.  Someone else had a history of settling for less than what they deserved.  She got cheated on.  He ended up not trusting humanity and fearing the vulnerability of love.  Oh, the reasons for the baggage are endless, my darlings!  I had seen enough of them to start believing that that very baggage is pretty much a permanent part of the process; and if not that, it’s an unexpected third character.

I mean:  Look at Romeo and Juliet.

Those two kiddos were lucky enough to experience the rare coincidence when both parties love each other equally and, what’s utterly amazing, for the very first time.  But even in the case of these two “star-crossed lovers,” they did not start-up their famed affair without a couple of issues in tow.  Even though their baggage didn’t originate from previously failed affairs, these two teenage lovers had inherited plenty of it from their families.  And once there is baggage — the affair cannot remain light.  Sooner or later someone’s gotta start reshuffling their shit, impose some transference upon their new lover, repeat a pattern or freak-out entirely.

And sometimes, a love affair is predetermined to not work out.  Back to our unfortunate kiddos in Verona, their Happy Ending was doomed from the get-go.  As for the rest of us who have lived — and loved — enough, we can’t even figure out if we’ve chosen our future beloveds to fit the pattern or to escape it.  Because when it comes to one’s history and one’s future — they are two codependent aspects.

“Damn, V!  That’s a grim outlook,” you may say.

Well, there is hope in it yet, my dear comrades.  With the help of some therapy and mutual communication, a love has a chance of surviving being bashed by egos.  But it takes hard work, of course.  However, I never said that the hopefulness came at a reasonable price.

But today’s rant blog is not even about love:  It’s about the loss of it.

Allow me to ask you this poignant question, my dear comrades (for such is my destiny — to be poignant; and “yourr velkom”!):  Why must we insist on making each break-up messy?  What’s with all the finger pointing, and the issue having, and the claims of righteousness, and the entitlement to justice?  Besides the reshuffle of things and bodies that must naturally occur when a Happily Ever After doesn’t work out, most failed lovers refuse to walk away without pulling some final punches.  Whatever happened to calling it quits without losing the grasp on grace; if not for the sake of the two people that the lovers have grown to become, then for the sake of the initial more smitten and kinder players they were in the beginning of the affair?

This has been puzzling me lately, I must confess, my comrades.  In the light of my recent willingness to make my new love story work out while simultaneously seeking my forgiveness of the previously failed ones, I’ve been rewinding some of my past break-ups.  (So, okay:  I’m masochistic a lil’!)  It’s like a bloody home movie marathon in my head these days!

And what I’ve discovered was that regardless the promises of kindness and the vows “to love and to hold,” in the final chapter of my every love story, shit got messy.  Even after I’ve wised-up enough to stop confusing screaming phone calls and slammed doors as an expressions of that same love, the drama (for the lack of a better word) didn’t stop.  Because even if I’ve decided to walk away without losing my graces, the other — often poorly chosen from the start partner — made it messy.

In the end, my darling boys ‘n’ girls, it all worked out, of course.  The broken hearts healed.  New loves eventually arrived.  In some cases, there even blossomed a lovely friendship between my exes and I.  But the residual guilt or the overall heaviness from an ungraceful break-up hung around for a bit; slowing down the process of healing and imposing itself onto the next affair.

So, why, I must repeat, this “much ado about nothing”?  Why can’t we, lovers, agree to depart without leaving each other undamaged?

Isn’t there a way to call it quits without the two prizefighters trying to pull those final punches that would knock the wind out of their opponent?  And instead of utilizing the energy of all that anger and mourning toward inflicting pain, may I dare suggest redirecting it toward summoning some gratitude for the obvious privilege of having loved at all?  And if a Happy Ending is just not meant to be, can an affair’s ending happen with some contentment, at least?