Tag Archives: purpose

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.)

“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!”

“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!

“Love Dries Up, I Thought — Even Faster Than Sperm”

Settle down, lovelies!  Settle down!  I didn’t write that line above (although I wish I did).

Behold:  The genius of C. Bukowksi exactly the man to keep me company last night, in bed. 

Which, by the sound of him, is where he best belonged in life:  Under the sweat-soaked sheets, with some well-lived-in broad (behold:  me) who had the potential to be brilliant; and who every once in a her saddest while, lived up to that potential.  But all other times, she bounced between being brutal and angelic, and maybe a lil’ bit childlike.

Yeah.  C. and I could’ve had some fun!  That poignant alcoholic who on paper insisted sounding like a bastard!  Was he, indeed?  Or was he, like me, bouncing between being brutal and… well, something else.

“R u home?” I got interrupted by a text from an ex, at around midnight.  A text from an ex — seeking sex?  But I already had a man in bed:  C.  Period.

But why be rude, I thought, and I responded:  “Yep.”

“Want me 2 come over?”  (I pondered:  Could I be in the mood for some sex with an ex?)

“I’m in bed, with my lites off.”  I half-lied.  Apparently:  I wasn’t in the mood.

“Well get dressed and turn your lites ON!”

Oh.  So it wasn’t about sex!  The ex was concerned.  Earlier in the day, I remembered he asked me about my head:  He knew how that fucking thing got, all messy ‘n’ shit, post break-up.  After all, he’d seen me handle his own departure, three years ago.

This ex-player always had a talent to be rougher than most.  Not mean, just stronger.  The most assertive I’ve ever had.  On the phone and in bed, he always he treated me like a handful, but never a pain in the ass, acting as if he would rather do nothing else but figure me out.  He left though — surprise, surprise! — after a couple of months of such riddle solving.

“Timing,” he said at the time.  (Funny:  That’s the same explanation I got from this latest guy.)

So, I thought of all the voices in my head that get set off by a man’s departure.  Between brutal and angelic I usually bounce, grappling with the worst, darkest thoughts — just so I could come out on top, illuminated by grace:  On top, just the way I like it.  The departed are rarely made privy to the brutality of my head, because I never want to be “that girl”:  Name-calling her formerly beloved — or her beloved still! — and destroying whatever bits of beauty remained in the post-break-up’s ground zero; only to find herself not living up to HER better self.  I exorcise my own head, in private.  That way, years down the road, after other women, my players will always think:

“But Vera was kinder than most.”  (Settle down, lovelies:  I didn’t write this line either.  C. Bukowski did.  Period.)

These voices:  Every woman gets them.  And because of the privilege I’ve earned via kindness and empathy, I’ve listened to other broads’ voices before:  Name-calling their exes, damning them to never be loved again, suddenly taking for granted the reasons for which they loved those poor bastards in the first place.  Sometimes, they wonder about where they themselves have gone wrong.  But that’s too brutal, you see, so they lash out at the guy again.

Here are just a couple of these gems, for your viewing, my lovelies:  A couple of those brutal voices — and, in return, my now habitual responses to them.  Because I’ve spent the night with C. Bukowski, you see.  That poignant alcoholic knows no lullabies.  So, I ain’t really in the mood for angelic right now:

—  “What an asshole!”  

That’s the most reoccurring voice from my girls, when they lash out at the man they’ve just finished adoring five minutes ago.  Sometimes, the name varies, depending on my girls’ demographics.  And oh how they expect me to echo that name of choice — but I don’t!  I SHALL NOT.

Instead, my rebuttal is — always:  He may be that, my ladies.  He may be that (insert a name according to the girl’s demographic). But chances are that, like you, he is just one hurtin’ mother fucker, trying to get through the chaos of life the best way he can.

—  “He doesn’t deserve me!”  

I’ve made it quite obvious that I am a fan of my own gender.  But regardless the accusations by a slew of haters this year, I don’t always side with it.  I do try my very, very best to see both points of view.  I’m brutal and angelic that way, ‘member?

But “deserve” is a funny word.  Not “funny” funny, but reeking of hubris — of taking the place of divinity.  And it is my personal belief that one’s divinity should only be applied when striving for one’s own best potential.  It CANNOT be practiced on others. It is too brutal that way.

So, what I tell my girls (and myself, in this state of lapsed graces) is this:  May be.  He may be an undeserving man.  But instead of waiting for someone else to step-up, why not give YOURSELF what you think you deserve?

(Most of the time, my girls’ response to that is, “I don’t know how to do that…”  Sad, ain’t it?  But that’s a discussion for another day.)

No one will ever love him the way I did!”  (SHIT:  Speaking of brutal.)

May I just say, ladies:  I hate this one!  As someone who’s been on the receiving end of that line, I cannot think of the most absolute way of erasing the love that preceded the break-up.  Because a thought like that betrays your own twisted intensions.  During the love affair, you may not have loved unconditionally — but for the sake of your own validation; and just how fucked up is that?  Not fucked up, but perfectly human.  But I do know — but you can do better than that.  YOU CAN BE — BETTER THAN THAT.

“And who the fuck do you think you are — to predict another person’s life?”  (Oops.  I think I just spoke directly to the ex who damned me with that same line.  “What an asshole!”)

All said and done, my lovelies:  Lovers come and go.  That’s their very purpose, you see.  During an affair, whatever your trip may be — that’s the trip they take with you.  That’s the trip they teach you.  But there are no better lessons — no better tests of your own character — when these lovers depart.  For in that seemingly most brutal stretch of days, they teach you your own worth.  Your grace.  Your personal divinity.

That way, years down the road, after other women, your players will think:

“she has hurt fewer people than

anybody I know, 

and if you look at it like that,

well, 

she has created a better world.

she won.”

(Settle down, my lovelies.  I didn’t write that line either.  That’s my C.  Period.)