Tag Archives: fear

Suspended Saints

Now that she’s arrived, was there anything else to it?  A life summoned itself and paused for a while.  Yes, there was always a pause, Larisa noticed; a breather in between the chapters.

She never imagined her death, never was the type to bear the hubris of planning her own funeral.  Like weddings, death demanded metaphors.  To capture oneself, to be summarized, direly:  But how can one not be so many things at once?  Besides, the way she felt, ceremonies strived for a shared experience; not a centralized meditation that treated the self as the object of all other events; that separated and sought how different one was from the rest, taking for granted the universality of it all.  She didn’t have the ego for it.

Larisa had been living for others, certainly:  a symptom assigned mostly to her gender.  In her family, she had witnessed the earlier generations of women lose themselves in sacrificial love.  For the sake of their children, their husbands, their aging parents, they carried on serving; until they found themselves having a hard time remembering what they themselves had wanted, originally, all along.  Remember those days?  How many times she’d heard the mournful reminiscence in a woman’s voice:  Those days!  What happened since then, Larisa wondered, herself still a young girl; what force of obscurity slithered itself in between and demanded for a retraction, or a delay at least.

Definitely, she wouldn’t lose the sight of her own purpose, she thought!  Yet, the loneliness came scratching at the backdoor, becoming louder as she compared the things other women claimed as accomplishments:  dramatic courtships, the victory in which meant expensive weddings and doting husbands, as one could only hope; then, the automatic events of pregnancy and nest acquiring (building, building, gaining weightiness); the demands of a chosen lifestyle, or in the cases of the less fortunate — merely survivals.  Every woman she knew had leapt into all of it without ever questioning the reality of her expectations.  How could their husbands — the equally unknowing human beings with a whole other set of expectations imposed onto them — keep up?  They too, when young, once dreamt of following the call of the world’s magnificence.  But lives demanded to be defined by success; and what others made of success — was not at all what she’d imagined.

There was love, of course.  There would always be love.  Beyond her own anxiety and self-judgement, she could see that a life was only as successful as the love one projected.  Still, in the beginning, it was loneliness that determined the pursuit of it; and loneliness made things more urgent, non-negotiable and somehow crucial.  It conformed the shape of love, so it could fit into the missing parts; make-up for the previous mistakes of others; fix, mold, make it better.  Because in a person, there were always parts missing:  from too much love, or not enough of it, from the prototypes of our lovers (god bless our parents!), who couldn’t possibly step up to what love was meant to be, as she thought of it:  all forgiving, non-discriminating, fluid.

And what about the needs?  One had to have needs.  It was a path of nature.  Larisa found the balance between the self-fulfillment of those needs and the ones she could hand over to another — unpoetic and stressful.  So, she chose to handle all of them on her own; not with any sense of confrontation or showmanship, but with the esteem of self-reliance.  And surely, Larisa thought, it would only elevate the love.  Surely, if one handled the demands of one’s survival with this much grace, there would be more room for the beauty and the compassion; the reflection of the self in the suffering of others and the almost rapturous feeling of knowing exactly how it felt to be another; for such a love lacked fear, and it could take up spaces with its tide-like tongues, and whenever it retracted, one only had to wait for its return.  In light, in easiness:  What surrender!

 

Larisa wasn’t really sure how or where, in the self, the unease began.  On that day — a day unmarked by any significance — she’d gone into a church.  With her head bowed and eyes half-closed, she didn’t seek answers or help, only a space from which to observe the ways her thoughts moved, sometimes birthing moods, sometimes — nothingness; and she watched herself alter, even while in stillness, mind creating matter; thoughts becoming intentions; and she cast the net into the endless vagueness and brought them back into the very is-ness of her:  Into what she believed the most.

This church appeared make-shift, marking a spot where, under an influence of a former fanatical thought, an ancient Russian cathedral had been burnt down over half a century ago.  A modest wooden building, unheated, undecorated, in a shape of a polygon, sat in the shadowy corner of a square.  The country was living through an era of resurrected gods and revalidated heros, often dead by now, having been taken for granted for the sake of simplifying a former common ambition.  Things crumbled.  Alliances turned chaotic.  And when everyone woke up to amended history — figures worthy of worship long gone and nearly forgotten — a common panic ensued.  For even if it weren’t the ego that made a people matter, it had to be their spirit; a common memory of a civilization.

The roads had frozen overnight; and at first, she had snuck-in to thaw out her stiff toes.  She purchased a candle at the door, mostly out of habit.  She didn’t even know how that particular ceremony worked.  Two side altars, with figures of crucified saints, sat against the walls of the church, opposite of each other.  Standing there for a while, still and unnoticed, she studied the other women who moved like ghosts across the dirt floor.  Everyone was fully clothed.  She looked down at her feet and shifted:  There was little hope of her finding much warmth there.  Still, she stayed.  She paused, and in the growing shadows of her memories, she waited.

Older women in head scarves, with histories written across their tired faces, were crossing themselves at their chosen mantels.  Some moved their lips in prayer, repeatedly lowering their heads in a manner that came after so much practice, one was no longer moved by it.  What misfortunes had brought them here?  Loss required humility, otherwise one was consumed with fury.  Her country had lived through tragedies with a numbness of habit.  Resignation was often advised by the elderlies, yet she found herself incompetent at it.

She took another look at the suspended saints and walked over to the side alter with a Christ whose eyes were semi-open.  A little girl in a rabbit fur hat clung to the leg of her grandmother.  Larisa looked down at the child and without raising her hand, moved her fingers inside the mitten.  The child, sensing an interaction, got shy and clutched the old woman’s leg with more zealousness, for children often appeared overwhelmed with the energy of living.  Their egos struggled with the life force they had been granted (what were they supposed to do, to be?  how did they matter); and juxtaposed against the even flow of hours — one’s magnificence was only seen in silence, she believed — the egos expanded; for surely, they had to become something better.

(To Be Continued.)

Threshold

(Continued from April 8th, 2012.)

When she first arrived, the older woman took off her shoes before stepping over the threshold.  Unusually considerate, light in her step, she made her daughter nervous.

There had been superstitions, back in her mother’s country, about thresholds, doorways, windows.  Table tops and chairs.  And they were treated like traditions by the women in her family, as non-negotiable as laws of gravity and just as final.  To never kiss over a threshold.  To never sit upon a tabletop.  To never let an unmarried woman be positioned at a corner seat, while dining.  And with the slew of superstitions came antidotes, just as important to take notice of; so that when things did NOT work out — the victim could be still the one to blame:  You shoulda knocked three times on wood, spit over the left shoulder, and hidden a fig hand in your pocket.  These things would grow on one unconsciousness like barnacles of paranoid behavior.  And in a nation of world-renowned courage, it puzzled her to see so many doubtful people.

And was her mother brave at all, to just pack-up like that and leave?  To move herself with a child to the furthest removed continent, after the death of her husband?  His — was a death by drinking.  She didn’t want to die — by mourning.

And now, both women — tired but not tired enough to not be cautious of each other — seemed to be waiting for something.  Waiting for the other shoe to drop, albeit both of them standing barefoot in the empty kitchen.  In this new country, where everyone was in love with fun and smiley faces, they each would arrive to their shared home and try to force a lightness to descend.  It would be mostly out of habit, and not desire.  Her mother functioned better in these new rules:  “Have fun!”  “God bless!”  “I love you!”  She had no difficulty throwing these around, without taking any time to match their implications to the worth of the recipient.

The younger woman now waited by the sink full of dishes.  After enough silence, while stealing glances at her mother, who floated from one room to another like a trapped moth, the hostess began to rummage through the dirty dishes.

Had mother always colored her hair with that unnatural shade of black, when last she’d seen her, in New York?  The snow white roots came in aggressively, all over mother’s head, opposing the other color with no mercy.  When did she age this much?  When did this fear and sorrow find time to settle on her face?

A paw of pity stroked across the young woman’s tightly wound nerves:

“Mom.  Why don’t you sit down?”  She caught herself:  All furniture was made of boxes, uncouth for a woman with a living husband, according to her mother’s generation.  Before the older woman managed to react, the daughter hid her gaze in forming mounds of soapsuds and hurriedly amended her first offer:  “Mom.  Wouldn’t you like a drink?”

“Yes, please,” the older woman turned on her heels, seemingly delighted.  “White zinfandel?”

“Well.  Um.  I don’t have alcohol.  But would you like some juice?”

“Oh.  Right.”  An eyebrow went up and froze.  “No, thanks.”

She turned and walked away again — floating, balancing, looming — stopped by the sliding doors of the balcony, at the edge of the living-room.  The palm trees slowly swayed outside like metronomes to one’s slower heartbeat.  West, West, West.

She’d gone out West, with nothing but the ghosts checked-in as her luggage.  The letters from her best friend on the East Coast would hit the bottom of the mailbox on a weekly basis, for the first two months.  She praised her for the courage.  She mentioned pride, and dignity, and all the other things they’d mutually gotten high on, back in college.

It never happened in any of the books she’d read, but in her life, what others titled “courage” — was merely an act of following through.  Besides, she swore, he thought of the idea first.  What else was she suppose to do?

The best friend wrote her with gel pens, whose color was always given careful consideration.

She wrote in pink:  “It’s better to let it all go to the wind.”

In purple:  “Let justice work itself out.”

At least, unlike the others, the best friend never judged.  She wasn’t in a habit of taking sides.  She never called the husband names.  But then again, they’d never really found men to be the leading topic of their friendship.  Men merely existed.  Some men were good.  And back in college, the two of them hadn’t loved enough men to speak of the other gender with that scornful nostalgia of the other women.  Men merely existed.  And then:  There was the whole of the magnificent world outside.

 

Out here — out West — she could just start from scratch.  She only needed to remember how to breathe the even breath:  if not that of her calmer youth — then of her wiser self.  With time, she knew she’d see the point of it, the purpose, the lessons of her little losses.  She had too vivid of an imagination to not weave her life into a story.

“One’s life had meaning.  It couldn’t be for forsaken.”  (Oh, how she missed those wonderful convictions of her youth!)

So, while she waited to mature into that wiser self, she set aside some time and space in which the hurting self could flail, abandon graces, wag its finger, then call people back with tearful apologies.  But she would not have to confront her past out here, at least; except for when she opened the envelopes of her phone bills.

“So,” mother started speaking to the window, again.  “Natasha?  Are you looking for a job?”

“I have been looking, yes, mom.”

“Okay,” mom turned around.  Change of subject:  “I hear Mike got a promotion for doing the work on that new bridge, in Brooklyn.”

When rinsing a knife after all pungent foods, one absolutely must use soap.  Because if not, the taste will resonate on every meal for further weeks to come.  

“Oh yeah?  That’s good.”

“Yeah!  He’s a smart boy!  I’ve always liked Mike.  For you.”

It’s better if the handle of the knife is anything but wooden.  Wood stays a living thing forever.  It takes on other substances, breeds them, doesn’t let them go.

Here comes the second round.  Ding, ding, ding:

“I wrote Mike a letter.”  Mom searched for the effects of her intentions on her daughter’s face.  “I know!  I know!  It sounds silly!  We live a borough away.  But I have always relished his opinion.”

She felt exhausted.  “Mom.”

Out West, she’d found herself relearning how to use each thing with an appropriate instrument.  The sense of wonderment!   The love of unexpected beauty!  The curiosity she was resuscitating in herself, like a paralysis patient learning how to walk again.  Her days weren’t daunting, at all times; and they were full of curiosity.

And now:  Mom, barefoot yet armed!   In one woman’s kitchen.  So fearful, she could not release either of them from their pasts.  They stood, displeased with being a reflection of each other.  Another eyebrow arch.  A scoff.  One turned away, demonstratively disappointed.  The other looked down onto her pruned fingers submerged into a sink of cruddy water.

Mom faced the window with no curtains, yet again.  Those horrid, flapping, plastic blinds had been the first thing that Natasha’d taken down.  For the first weeks, she let the wind roam through the apartment, while she, sleepless and exhausted, observed the palm trees wave against the never pitch-black night of her new city:  You are alright.  Remember breathing?

West, West, West.

You still have time.  In your defense.

The Quality of Mercy

Will you just look at him?!  A little cock around a chicken coop, roughing up his feathers, in a company of obese pigeons.

And what is THIS:  A smile?!  His life is “six business days” away from altering its course:  from the heart-breaking mediocracy of it to the new pattern of brutality — of evil begets evil.  It’s at the mercy of some randomly selected buggers like me, so tired and overworked that we are no longer able to experience a patriotic high from this pain-in-the-ass civic duty; or from the frilly concepts of justice and what’s right.  We are:  The Who’s Who, and what of it?!

We’ve all got our ideas, that’s for sure!  Our principles!  I stand by this, I swear by that; I vow, I believe.  We pump up our chest.  We force our eyes to glimmer with conviction.  But what of it?  And who is he who aims at human life?

Okay, get up!  The judge walked in.  Get up!  Don’t waiver but don’t be cocky either.  The white folks — they don’t like that.  Stand up!  

Oh, man.  

This.  Blows.

In my belief, there used to be much more to breathing.  But slowly, it has whittled down to simple truth — not even fairness, but truth — while all the rest has fallen by the wayside.  Still, it is more than I can say about some people!

Like this loudmouth fat girl I haven’t seen here, on the first day.  Today, in clunky, loud rain boots with worn out heel caps, she marches up and down the marble floors, with People Magazine under her armpit.  (She’s interested in People.)  And meaning to be seen and heard while on her cell phone, she flaunts those words that show no sympathy, no modesty and no distress to any of the details of today — but having “to get outta here”.  She “can’t afford this”!  She “has no tolerance for shit like that”!  And obviously, she cannot manage to allow for the rest of us to wait in silence.  Now — is her time; her stage.  And we, the people, listen:

“Yeah, like, that would be the biggest tragedy, right?  I mean, this jury duty — SUCKS!  It’s, like, the worst thing that has happened to me, EVER!”  A hair flip of vaguely red and stringy hair — and she suddenly reminds of somebody who once aroused the same aftertaste of nausea in my trachea.  But who?

A blond lawyer in a smart charcoal skirt suit walks in, past the grinning security guards and through the double doors.  Her shoes are sharp.  She’s sharp.  She’s brilliant.  The fat girl scoffs, “Like, ‘scuse me!” when the woman asks, quite quietly, to pass.

Mmm.  Where did they dig HER up?

And this little man is smiling now.  You’re scared shitless, aren’t you, kid?  What have you got besides hormonal bravado and a shitty cover-up of fear.  For this is not a smile of someone hopeless; but neither is he smiling to be liked by us.

They must’ve cleaned him up the night before and given him this bulky dress shirt of some unmemorable color.  As if not to offend.  Not to arouse all the self-righteous and the ones who have been programed by a life of fear.  Whenever he turns his head, the collar sways around his skinny, post-pubescent neck like untied sails around a mast.  He’s small.  He’s tiny.  He is a fucking kid!

Manslaughter.  Ain’t that a fucked-up thing?!  

Mi abuelo (I miss the old fuck!):  He wouldda given me a smackin’ for haunching over right now.  

“I didn’t come to this good country to see my first grandson groveling in front of white people!”  

Don’t grovel, man!

His skin is ashen and uneven.  I wonder where he spent last night…

The truth is:  I am clueless.  My knowledge of the judicial system is laced with fear, and it is mostly defined by bad cop shows produced by Hollywood (but shot in New York City — for that “edgier”, “more urban” look).  Was he allowed to sleep at home, while waiting for this trial?  When was the last time he squeezed the hips of this one girl who keeps coming around and holding his skinny, shaven head in that flat space along her chest while her gigantic breasts fall to the sides, right after he is done?  When was the last time he was kissed and kept his eyes open, focused on the girl’s birthmarks and her taste?

When did the young abandon their reckless curiosity and started chasing justice?

Not guilty!  Innocent, Your Honor!  

Aw, shit!  I guess it’s not my time yet.  FUCK.

My god, you poor kid!  What little you have had, in life!  And you’re about to lose that too!

No, wait!  I can’t be wondering these things!  This man-child KILLED somebody!  Sure, “allegedly”, but killed.  “Allegedly,” he’d killed somebodies, actually!  Not one but two, and one — was a young woman.

There is an old man glueing words together on the first panel of us.  He’s speaking slowly, voice quivering, possessing no knowledge on how to use a mic.  The poor soul can barely speak English:

“I…  eh…  I’m…  bery scared, um…  guns.”

My lawyer’s taking notes.  He better be dismissing this old chink!

How have we come to this?  What does this say, about us, when we no longer find the roots of it, the causes; but only our objections and dismissals.  I stand by this, I vow to that.  And rather than examining the history of violence — what makes us snap, then heal but harden? — we carry on imposing more violence.  We call it “retribution”.  The “crime” — to “punishment”.

These somebodies were somebodies’ beloveds, I remember.  “Allegedly.”

The fat girl is dissecting People, in the row ahead of mine.  Shit.  Of whom does she remind me?

“Beyond the reasonable doubt.”  That’s funny asking this complaining bunch out here to be reasonable!  

The mic is passed to the lanky academic in wrinkled clothes, who’s sitting in the front row of the panel.  It’s happening at the request of the stenographer:  A visibly unhappy woman who rolls her eyes in the direction of the judge, for every time she cannot hear a juror.  A potential juror, sorry.  The wrinkled man refuses to say one word and steps to the side.  He walks in front of the long desk where the kid is now slumping forward, in his seat.  The silence that takes up the auditorium is nosy, odd and angry.  The man returns.  Sits down.  He shoots the kid a glance.  He’s gloating.  How hateful!  How have we come to this?

The face that stands at the other end of a cocked gun gets down to basics.  The winning arguments of life.

A kink in the armor:  Is that his fault?

My turn.

Do I understand “the burden of having his guilt proved” to me — “beyond the reasonable doubt”?

What does that mean?!

I’d like to hear his story:  How have we come to this?

I want to believe:  All people are innately good.

Can you repeat the question?

Yes, Your Honor.

How have we come to this?

You want me to speak up?

HOW HAVE WE COME TO THIS?

Uneasy Lies the Head

At first, it was the hair.  Her thick, red hair, with angelic ringlets flocking the frame of her still cherubic face began to slip out of its follicles; and she would watch it slide along the body, in the shower — young garden snakes on sleet — flock her feet, like seaweed, before spiraling down into the drain.

“You ought to be careful, child!  For hair like this, the other females will give you the bad eye!”

Her grandmother was a superstitious woman.  With her thin, brittle fingers, she braided Nola’s curls into tame hair buns or the complex, basket-like constructions on top of her head, which by the end of a day, gave her headaches and made her eyes water.

The tedious ceremonies of the old world’s superstitions slowed down Nola’s childhood to half-speed.  The pinning of safety pins to her underwear after bath, their heads facing downward and away from her heart — “grounding”; the triple twirling and the hanging of a rusty locket, with some dead priest’s hair, around her neck.  Hemp ropes with strange beads tied around her wrists and ankles.  Sometimes, when she drifted off to sleep — but not yet into her dreams — after her grandmother’s bedtime stories, she watched the shadows of the old woman move along the wall:  A giant and magnificent bird casting the whispers of good winds upon her sleeping head.  And in the mornings, when she wasn’t looking — grandmother would slip drops of blessed water into her glass of milk; then keep her hand behind her heart while Nola chugged it down.  All that — to ward off the other women.

Where had this mistrust in the female kind come from?  Nola couldn’t understand it.  And as a child, she was particularly puzzled about that feared bad eye.  Grandma had no tolerance for questions worked up by Nola’s imagination — a quality that later flared up in her own motherhood — so she came up with the answers on her own.  (It was the worst — wasn’t it? — for a child to feel annoying, then dismissed by the habits of the bored and tired grownups.  She hadn’t wanted to become like that!  And yet, she was, right in the midst of it, now.)  These had to be some evil women, Nola decided way back when; some ancient witches with an extra eye to give away.  And they lived among the good and the kind, giving the rest of the womankind a terrible reputation.

One time, walking in her grandmother’s footsteps, through the pre-sunrise layer of the summer fog only to be seen in the Far, Far East of Russia (and in the magical place of which she’d read once, called “San Francisco”), she saw a yellow raincoat.  It balanced on a pair of emaciated legs; and when they caught up with it, Nola looked back:  An old woman, with wet gray hair stuck to her caved-in temples, was staring right back at her from underneath the bright yellow hood.  She reminded Nola of one of those Mexican skeleton dolls of rich, exotic colors, dressed in human clothing that hung on them, like parachutes on manikins.  From behind the fog that clung to every moving or inanimate object, she could hardly see the color of the woman’s eyes.  They seemed to appear milky though, crowded with cataracts.  But the sinister smile that stretched the old woman’s toothless mouth into a keyhole told Nola that she could see well enough to look right through into her heart.

She felt an icy shiver:  A drop of accumulated rainwater slipped under her raincoat collar and began its slow avalanche down the back, along the spine, meeting up with other raindrops and her sudden sweat, growing, gaining weight; gaining momentum.

“Is this it?” Nola thought.  Was this the female owner of the feared bad eye?  Expecting a feeling of sickly slime, terrified yet thrilled at the same time, Nola slipped her hands into her pockets.

“Stop dragging your feet, like a tooth comb through my armpit hair!” her grandmother barked from a few steps ahead.  Nola started running.

 

In adolescence, when all the other girls acquired breasts and waistlines, Nola cultivated auburn braids; and boys began communicating their flared-up desires by yanking them hard, that she would cry.  And if ever she chased after one of such brutal Romeos, uncertain about her own manic urge, the hair whipped her back like two wet ropes.

At night, after her solitude was pretty much assured, she wrapped the clouds of her scratchy hair around her head, so she could doze off — off and away from the voices of her parents, bickering in the kitchen.  (On planes, she dreamed that she could do the same to clouds.  God bless her, soon enough!)  When her braids began reaching the crests of her hips, Nola began the practice of making dolls out of them; and she would rest each on her pillow, next to her lips, and whisper to it her speculations about the far removed and kinder places.

“Is this how you care for your wife ‘n’ child?!” her mother would be squealing in the downstairs dirt room, if dad showed up tipsy from a few chugs of dark Russian beer.

From what Nola understood in other children’s reenactments in their shared sandboxes, her father was not a hopeless drunk at all:  He never fell down in the alleys, later to be found by the female cashiers of the local delis, unlocking the back doors for early morning deliveries or briberies from those savvier Soviets who knew how to get their share of deficit produce to come that week.  Never-ever, had father been taken to the Emergency Room on a sled — pulled by his same “wife ‘n’ child”, in a middle of the Russian winter — to get his stomach pumped from alcohol poisoning.  No, Nola’s dad was just a jolly drunk, occasionally guilty of having a reason to celebrate something — anything! — in his Russian destiny:  A National Fisherman Day.  The fall of Bastille Saint Antoine.  A successful summoning of mere three meals for his family, that day.  Another Day in the Life of…

But mom went off, pulling at her own thinning hair, whenever the man showed up with that harmless — and actually endearing to Nola — goofy smile.  Whenever Nina slipped out her bed and did an army crawl to the top of the stairs, she watched her mother’s body shiver, the skin of her arms vibrate, all — from what looked like an inside job.  The woman wailed and howled, and threw herself against the hard surfaces and all the sharp corners, as if possessed by a death wish.  Mom always took everything too far, into a place of difficult ultimatums and points beyond forgiveness.  And watching her in such a state set off anxiety-ridden arrhythmia in Nola’s heart.

Her mother’s sad, all-knowing smile.  Her choir of scoffs and sighs, and terrorizing whimpers.  Her melancholic, slow head shake belonging to a cartoonish bobblehead stuck to a dashboard of a Moscow’s taxicab:  getting around but not going anywhere!  She felt an urge to run away from all of it — from here and from her — to somewhere, where people didn’t readily construct their painful sentences and woke up with faces drained of all curiosity or tenderness.  Could that be “San Francisco”?  She slept on pillows of her hair and wondered.

(To Be Continued.)

“Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy Are Drifting Through My Opened Mind…”

Sorting it out.  Bit by bit.  A crumb after a crumb.  An echo of facts — here.  A token of shared memories — there.

Sorting it out, for a sliver of some truth…

But that’s where it gets tricky:  My truth — does not equal their truth.

With my family, I’ve taken the easier way out, according to them.  For whom exactly have I made it easy, though?  I’ve made it easier on them, NOT on myself.  My truth — were it revealed — would break their little hearts:

“We didn’t know.  We’re sorry.  What a waste!”

Ideally, my truth would actually deserve their compassion.  For, in my truth, survival has been difficult, yes (and it is such, most of the time); but in the choices that it took to do it — my survival has been tragic.

When one starts from the bottom and walks the tight rope of having no such option as to fail, the choices suddenly become quite brutal.  They are self-serving most of the time.  They are uncivil and mostly driven by fear.  Because to fall down, in such a case, means having no place to land; no home to crawl back to, where by the means of heritage or hopefully some unconditional love one could be healed, recovered, reinvigorated.  One could begin again, and try again, if only one could have a home.  But having walked away from family — means having no choice and no space in which I could afford mistakes.

The mistakes that I have made, since orphaning myself — by choice — have taken years to actually forgive.  In most cases, that forgiveness demanded more walking away:  from the living witnesses; from those who have promised to step in, in place of missing family, and then gave up.  And from my own wrongdoing self.  And it is my truth that I hold no grudge; but in those case (of mistakes), forgiveness has demanded silence.  Because, as I have learned by walking away from my own family:  Their truth — will never equal mine.  So, I prefer to walk away, in silence — yes.

The way one justifies survival is not up to me to judge.  In their truths — in anyone’s truth — survival is difficult, yes.  (And it is such, most of the time.)  When it turns out to be tragic — it asks for myths:  Justifications for one’s actions.  And so we choose to make up our own truths, not necessarily lies, but truths — the way we see them:  Truths by which we choose to stand, in order to avoid self-judgement.  Are they delusions?  Maybe.  But when survival’s tragic — they may be the only way to go, without losing one’s mind to sorrow.

A decade of delusions in my family is ending with a crunch time.  We have been separated for long enough to acquire myths about each other.  And after all these years, I am the one to make a choice — to go back, so that we could finally compare our truths.

Their truths — will never equal mine.  I know that.  But neither do I any longer want that.  I simply want to hear their side of it, and give them mine; so that we can put it all to rest.

What made me do it?  It had to be my mother’s face that I began to see in the reflection of my own.  A lifetime of walking away — from truths — has compressed that woman’s forehead into an accordion of guilt.  And silences — from all the abandoned witnesses and failed stand-ins for her loves — are floating above her head, like storm clouds waiting to release their electrical wraths.

One day, that storm may break out.  Who could possibly survive its horror?  The flood of all the choked tears and the thunder of the silenced truths would then create a havoc.  Her truths — would break the oblivious hearts of those from whom she’s walked away.  And that’s the heritage I do not wish to carry, any longer.

I’m going back then.  I am reversing the pattern of the family — and going back.  I know better than the delusions of my mother:  That their truths — will equal mine.  They won’t.

But their truths may give me answers to the eventual questions of my firstborn, who has been murmuring into my dreams since I have managed to find a love that stays.  This time, I haven’t walked away.  This time, I have allowed for the flexibility of truths.  This time — I HAVE FORGIVEN.

So, I’m going back then:  to sort it out, bit by bit.  A crumb after a crumb.   A sliver of some truth, so that we could all move on.

“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!”

“We Were Born Before the Wind.”

It seemed like she was waiting for someone.  By the bench, at the top of a hilly lawn, the bottom of which met with the narrow gravelly passage occupied by the late morning joggers, she stood there, barely noticed by others.  An iron railing stretched on the other side of the path, and the bright blue waters of Monterey Bay seemed calm.  A forest of boat masts kept swaying in their metronome rhythm.  They clanked against each other with the hollow sound of empty water buckets or rusty church bells.  The shallow waters by the shore were navigated by a couple of paddle boarders and glossy baby seals.

Was it her beloved heading home?  Or was this just a mid-stop where she’d regroup for the next glorious flight of her freedom loving soul?  She stood like she belonged to no one — but the call of her nature, immune to the voices of fear or doubt.

The Northbound wind frolicked with her straight white hair.  I didn’t expect to see that texture on her body, but when I saw the handful of silky strands fly up on the side of her head, I stopped.  She remained motionless:  still and proud, slowly scanning the horizon with her focused eyes.

Just a few meters down, I myself had rested by a statue of a woman.  I couldn’t tell how long ago I had left my room without having a preplanned route through this small town by the Bay; for I myself had come here to rest in the unlikely lack of my own expectations — my fears, worries and doubts — and I had let the movements of the sun determine my activities that day.  So in its highest zenith, I departed from the four walls of my inn after the laughter of children — hyper way too early and fearlessly attacking the nearby pool — woke me up.

I began to run slowly at first, crossing through the traffic of drivers used to the unpredictable characters of pedestrians.  Not once did I resort to my city habits of negotiation by scowls or passive-aggressive gestures.  I bypassed the elders slowly walking, in groups, along the streets of boutique stores with hand-written signs for Christmas sales.  The smell of caffeine and caramel popcorn would trail behind young couples on their romantic getaways.  The joggers of the town were few and far between; so when I reached the narrow passage of the tree alley along the shoreline, I picked up my pace.

The wind kept playing with my fly-aways and untangling my tight hair bun.  A couple of times I turned my head in the direction of its flow and saw the mirage outlines of my most favorite Northern City.

“By the time I get there, I shall be free of fear,” I always think but then return to the predetermined pacing of my dreams.

I noticed the statue’s back at first:  A colonial dress peaked out from underneath a cape, and both were captured in the midst of their obedience to the same Northbound wind.

“A statue of a woman.  That’s a rarity.”

And I walked up to her.

It seemed like she was waiting for someone. Up from the pedestal, she focused her gaze on the horizon.  Her face was calm but gripped by prayer.  I knew that face:  It belonged to a lover who trusted that the wind would bring him back to her, unscathed.  And even if he were injured on his odyssey or tempted by another woman’s feasts, she trusted he would learn and be all the better for it, in the end.  Against her shoulder, she was leaning a wooden cross made of tree branches.

Santa Rosalia:  The Italian saint of fishermen.  She froze, in stone, in a perpetual state of beholding for other women’s men.  Throughout centuries, so many freedom-loving souls must have departed under her watch, and I could only hope that most of them returned.  But when the sea would claim them, did other women come here to confront her or to collect the final tales of their men dying fear-free?

I walked while thinking of her face.  And then, I saw the other awaiting creature.

When she began to walk downhill, she’d test the ground with each step.  With a balletic grace she’d stop at times, and study the horizon.  The wind began to tease her silky hair.  It took figure eight routes in between her legs, and taunted her to fly.

And so she did:  On a single rougher swoosh of the wind, she stretched her giant stork-white wings, gained height and began to soar, Northbound and fear-free.

“Here Comes the Sun, Little Darlin’. Here — Comes the Sun.”

The hospital walls were the color of…

I don’t know.  How does anybody ever manage to remember the color of these walls?

One of the walls appears missing entirely:  Instead it is taken up by a giant window, with a hideous air-conditioning unit directly underneath it.  They don’t build windows like that on the East Coast.  Everything must be larger in the West: More land, wider roads; bigger closets and endless windows — windows from which we gaze upon the same vast land and highways that carry us along the coast, to and away from love, in a never-ending act of our indecisiveness about solitude.

In Vermont, there are houses with porches and hammocks; and in those houses, the window are unhinged, then flung open, into the idillic streets, best colored during Indian Summer.  In Maine, the window panes collect moisture, balancing out the difference between the temperatures with precipitation and moss.  In New York, one can always find a jammed window, or a broken one; and often, there is some lever one must work, in order to let in some fresh air.

I’m staring out of the giant hole in the wall, with sliding glass, into the desolate desert landscape with gray domes of industrial buildings and rare traffic.  I can see the packed parking lot of the hospital on the ground floor, and judging by the way people leap out of their cars, once they find a spot, I can tell the status of their beloved’s health.  The worst cases pull up directly to the curb.  Others choose to ride in an ambulance.

I see the disheveled head of a woman clutching a baby blanket being helped out of the red swinging doors.  She is being lifted by two men in uniforms; and once on the ground, one of them must remind her how to walk.

I look away:  Dear God!  I think I’m starting to run out of prayers.

On the horizon — gray mountains.  They are always gray, on this side, and only in the deepest winter do their peaks adopt a different shade:  of stark-white snow.  I think of the East, again.  The mountains aren’t mountains out there:  They’re hills.

Everything must be larger, in the West. And I’m one of those travelers, speeding along its wider roads, in a never-ending act of my indecisiveness about solitude:  chasing, then running away from love — then, coming back for more.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room.  I am alone here.  Well, no:  She is here too.  But I’m not sure if her Here is in the same vicinity as mine.  The doctors have managed to bring her back from wherever that is a broken heart takes its victims:  They have struggled to bring her back Here, through a series of shots and shocks and tricks of the trade.

So, now she is back Here; but I know her Here — is nowhere near.  It’s a different space entirely — a different Here where I, despite my conflicts with love, do not yet wish to be.

The doctors have spoken of Hope.

“Here is still some,” they say; and because they don’t avert their eyes, I wonder how many times they’ve had to say this — just today.

And how are they going to say it again to the disheveled mother who’s forgotten how to walk?

I come up to her bed.  Her skin is ashen.  I’ve never seen this color on the living before:  It’s yellowish-blue, sickly and wax-like.  It juxtaposes against all other shades with defeated sadness.  So, the fuchsia pink of her pedicured toenails peaking out from under the sheet loses all vividness.  The acrylic nails on her fingers, of the same shade, now have an appearance of props.

I remember she used to snap them against each other, when laughing herself to tears while telling a joke.  She was good at jokes.  And in my memory, that hollow sound of snapping nails has come to mean her good moods.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room:  Again!  It reminds me of the rhythm her broken heart is forced to take on, in order to stay Here.  Is this — the sound of Hope?  This slow, mathematically precise beat of an intelligent machine that, despite its act of mercy, does not possess the sensitivity to understand?

Her body has left this Here:  The Here of the Living!  She doesn’t want to be Here, anymore!  And it is a terrible thought; and I cannot bring myself to say it out loud, in front the drooping face of her mourning husband.

I stand by her bed and study her face.  It’s not peaceful, as my useless novels have promised.  She looks perplexed, and I find myself fixated on the faded outline of her lipstick.  I want to wipe it off for her:  She would have wanted dignity, while — and if — she is still Here.  She is a woman with no heartbeat but perfectly manicured nails.  I think of paging the nurse.

The tubes, running to and from her wrists, fascinate me with their width.  I follow them with their eyes, up to the beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine.  I study the monitor.

What was I looking for?

I return to her face, looking for answers.  A tiny tear, that has formed at an outer corner of her right eye, begins crawling across her temple.

“Are you here?” I whisper and grab her hand.

But I have never felt that temperature on the living before.

Not Here.

“Freedom’s Just Another Word — for Nothing Left to Lose.”

“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us.  It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” 

Wallace Stegner, The American West as Living Space

“What if I walked away, right now, into these open spaces ahead?”

I wasn’t sure if every 19-year-old entertained such thoughts, but as I continued walking in the midday heat of a Southern California summer, I could see the journey clearly.  I could see myself:  A tiny figure whose outline was distorted by the heat rising from underneath the thin-soled Converse shoes, walking slowly but with certainty, fearless in the way of someone who had nothing to lose.

I had lost enough that year to not fear the possible pain of the unknown.  I had lost enough to have nothing holding me in place.  My college applications had been sent off late and only to a handful of unknown institutions with rolling admissions.  Considering it was the end of August, I had assumed I had failed to get in.

Two marriage proposals had happened that summer, by two different men, neither of whom even pretended to understand me much.  A month before, I had lost all of my cash, my car and my place of stay; and the absurdity of my pre-college summer was finished off — with a death.

As a matter of fact, it was the dead that was still keeping me in place.

She had died untimely, from a heart attack-ed.  I was called out of my Anatomy Lab to receive the message.  It was just a note, written on a pink slip that rarely meant good news.  The couple of times that I had witnessed it being delivered into my classmates’ hands, they wouldn’t return for the rest of the day.  Sometimes, they would be gone for weeks; and when they came back, I noticed the difference in their faces.  It looked either like gravity — or weightlessness.  I was about to find out which.

My messenger — an unknowing work-study student from the counselors’ office — ran out on me before I could ask him for any details.

“I have a note,” I told the receptionist in the counselors’ office, while rummaging in my schoolbag for my glasses.

“I know.  They are still on hold,” she answered.

The supervisor of the office loomed in the background, by the copy machine.  I saw his face, however blurry, and knew if I could see him any clearer, he would tell me of his sympathy.  My hands continued shaking, as they searched the bottom of my bag for an item I insisted on needing before picking up the phone.

The next few days had passed in a slow-mo waltz of minutes.  There would be phone calls and somber cards; a weeping husband on a flowery couch; a line of uninvited guests who would never be around whenever I was attacked by a slew of forms and interviews from funeral parlors.

“Whatever you need,” they promised to the weeping husband, as they too began to weep.

Nothing had prepared me for the questions that happened that week, from the people on the other end of the phone:

She was a donor, they said; and could they have my signature — to take her eyes?

Make a list of all the things, they told me:  things to be placed inside her coffin.  Did I know which she had treasured the most?

Choose the clothes she would be most comfortable in, they insisted:  Shouldn’t she be comfortable, wherever she was going?

And was I sure she wouldn’t prefer cremation instead?  (‘Cause that wouldn’t cost us as much, they would mention under their breath:  After all, they weren’t completely heartless.)

The weeping husband continued to assume I was strong enough to take his place.  No one had asked me if I was ready or willing, or knowledgeable of her last wishes.  Perhaps, I had promised more competence than the bulb-nosed man on the flowery couch, who nodded and moaned, accepted troughs of food from the still uninvited neighbors, with their solemn faces and anecdotes about the dead.

“Whatever you need,” they mumbled over his shoulder as they hugged and strained their own faces for emotions.

On the morning of the funeral, I remembered shivering.  They had wanted us to start early:  The first burial of the day.  And the morning would be so cold, and dewy.  The husband continued to weep in the front row of gray plastic chairs, while I accepted envelopes and hugs from people I hadn’t known.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you.  It means so much.

The following week, I had promised to come back and clean out her closet.  The task of deciphering the bus schedules and routes seemed absurd and painfully sad.  I would study the indifferent faces of the drivers as they spoke gibberish about my transfers, and vouchers, and student passes.

I would get off on the last stop and study the desolate grounds and the open spaces ahead.

“What if I walked away, right now,” I thought, “into the open spaces?”

What if I followed the trajectory of black telephone lines or began chasing tumbleweeds:

Where would I end up?  And would I end up free?

And would that freedom feel weightless, eventually returning my joy; my forgiveness?

“Life Is Just What Happens to You, While You’re Busy Making Other Plans.”

What else is there to do, my darling, but to keep on going:  to keep on living?

You won’t even preoccupy yourself with the choice to stop until you’ve known some despair.  And there will be despair, in life, no matter how well I try to divert it, my darling.

It will strike you in the midst of a loss and eat up all the light illuminating the rest of your way.  It will challenge the clarity of your dreams.  Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’ve lost it:  this fleeting certainty about having a meaning, a purpose, in life.

“What is all this for, anyway?” you’ll ask yourself (although I do so very much hope that you will ask me first).

Despair is terrifying like that:  It aims at hope.  It’s quiet and dark.  It’s not like rage that clouds your vision with a rebellion against a collective sense of injustice.  Instead, it grovels.  It hungers.  It reaches for things in mere hope of someone’s last minute mercy.  And it dwells in sad corners of rented apartments where the faint smell of previous residents can’t help but remind you of irrelevance; of passing.  

Because everything passes, my darling, and every-one.

Everything passes — and this, too, shall pass.

Oh, how often I’ve wondered about what you will be like!  I try not to commit too much hubris at fantasizing about the color of your eyes, or the structure of your hair, or the shade of your skin.  But I have an idea, I think; and I hunt for it in the faces of other people’s children.

I try to restrain myself from predicting your gender.  In my younger day, I thought that most certainly you would be born a girl.  It was my duty, I thought, as a woman, to give way — to another woman.  I had already done it enough for plenty of others:  for the women I love or barely even know.  I never competed with my gender.  Instead, I devoted my life to making up for their difficulty of being born female.

It’s idealistic, I know, and a bit of a cliche.  It makes me into an easy target for those who could not find other ways of expressing their fears — but to tear down a woman’s self-esteem.  And so they did.  Some had succeeded, my darling, but not all; and not for long.  For I had shaken most of them off, by now; then spent the rest of my years repairing myself — with goodness.

Because what else is there to do, my darling, but to keep on going?

As a young woman, I was sure that I would make a better mother to one of my own kind.  I would devote the rest of my life to making up for the difficulty of your having been born a girl:  making it up to you, for life.  For your life, my darling.

But then, I had to love enough — and to lose enough loves — to open my mind to letting you be.  You may be a son, after all:  a boy whom I would teach to never be afraid.

May you never-ever be afraid, my darling!

But if you ever were, I would teach you to keep on going — with goodness. 

Because sometimes, life is summarized in our perseverance:  not just past the dramatic and the painful; but past the mundane, as well.  (I, despite my three decades among the living, still haven’t figured out which I find most grueling.  But I have known both, my darling — tragedy and survival alike — and I have persevered.)

And what else is there to do, my darling, but to keep on going?  to keep on persevering?

Everything passes:  Despair, joy, loss and thrill.  

But goodness:  Goodness must keep on going.  It must keep on happening.

So, these days, I no longer imagine your face or your gender; your stride, style, or habits.  I don’t fantasize about the way you’ll flip your hair or tilt your chin; then, yank on the threads of my familial lineage.  No, no:  I don’t daydream about hearing the echos of my mother’s laughter in yours.  I don’t pray for accidental manners that will bring back the long forgotten memories of my self.

No, my darling:  I’ll just let you determine all of that on your own.

Instead, now, I spend my days thinking of your character:  The temperament you’ll inherit and the choices you’ll learn to make.  For that is exactly what I owe you, the most:  To teach you goodness, my darling.

It shouldn’t be too hard, from the start; because everyone is born good.  But it is my responsibility to teach you goodness in the face of adversity; in the face of despair, despite the collective sense of injustice from other people.

So, I shall teach you goodness as a way of persevering.

Because you must, my darling:  You must persevere.   And you must never-ever be afraid!