Tag Archives: unhappiness

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.

“Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”

LA-LA started purring early this morning:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty, don’t you think?”

Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I have woken up with a headache:  This life of a freelancer is one pain in the ass.  Floating, always floating in some vague self-assurance that it is all gonna work out for the better; that everything is gonna fall into its place.  Because it always has, before; and because I’m good enough.  And even if it doesn’t work out, there are lessons to be learned, right?

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  Everything happens for a reason!” — other people tell me.

It takes very little for other people to chime-in.  Other people always seem so much smarter, or more opinionated, at least; more self-assured.  Or maybe they are just full of shit and know how to talk out of their asses.  I don’t know.  But do they know?  Do they know that they’re full of shit when they start their talkin’?  Or has their self-assuredness taken them beyond their recognition of denial — beyond their awareness of their full-of-shit-ness?

Yet, still:  It is all gonna work out for the better, I must believe that.  Because it always has, before.  And because I’m good enough.  And because (and herein lies my leprosy) I so fully, so strongly believe that it’s all in the intention:  One’s life — is all in one’s intention!  And my intentions — have always been good.

So, it is all gonna work out for the better.  It must.  It absolutely has to!  Because it always has, before — and because I had always been good enough.

And LA-LA:  She started purring early this morning, slipping through the shades of my bedroom window with that hazy sunshine that only She can manufacture.  I’ve never seen this sort of weather before, anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  There is a decisiveness in this mood of Hers:  It’s gonna be a hot day.  No room for negotiating.  You, little humans, can cough up enough smog to block some of Her rays with your fake clouds.  But as far as LA-LA is concerned:  It’s gonna be a hot day — decidedly!

And early this morning, She purred, rolling over onto Her back and playfully sharpening Her claws against my windowsill; nibbling on the chipping paint:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty.  Don’t you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I had woken up with a headache.

I had just returned to Her, the other day.  Like a thief, I slipped into the city without telling a single soul.  Because I knew that even before the pilot announced the descent into yet another decidedly hot day, I would begin to get homesick for the City I had just left behind.

I have never seen that anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  LA-LA is not really a chosen city, for many of us.  She is the one we settle for, while impatiently waiting for the fruition of our dreams.

And it’s a common pattern out here:  I have watched too many bait their dreams against this city (which is way too much pressure for any dream to withstand). When the dreams don’t happen fast enough, they fling their failures in Her face, forever blaming Her for the slowness of Her clocks; for Her lack of cooperation; for Her traffic, for Her industry, for Her lack of imagination; for Her decidedly hot days.  So, I thought I would just slip back into Her, quietly — under the sun of Her another decidedly hot day — and not voice my immediate homesickness for the City I had just left behind.

Because it takes very little for other people to chime-in:

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  It sucks!  But at least, you’ve learned a lesson!” — and off they go again, talking out of their asses so self-assuredly, I begin to wonder why they had settled here, so decidedly unhappy.

“I’ll be leaving in a month,” a neighbor had decided to confide in me during an elevator ride this morning.  I hadn’t seen him in a while — and I hadn’t really known him all that well.

So, “What the fuck is his name?!” I thought, squinting at him past my headache.  All I said this morning — was,  “Hello.”

“There is just nothing for me to do here!  No good jobs.  No good women,” he carried on; and then, he shrugged in a way that made me want to recoil inside my very spine.  There was an aggression in that shrug:  a painful flaunting of his griefs.

Goddamn it, I thought, squinting past my headache.  I was just picking up my mail accumulated during my departure and the days that it took for me to get over my homesickness for the City I had just left behind.  And all I said this morning — was “Hello.”

“So:  Where to?” I asked.  Somehow, the elevator has been programed to stop on nearly every floor; and to avoid that elevator silence, I chose to participate.  But I would chime-in very little, laconically.  Because I had woken up with a headache, and the unhappy neighbors’ griefs were a pain in the ass.

“San Diego!” he announced emphatically.  “Makes so much sense!”

In all truth, I had not a single clue as to how that other city made sense; but in juxtaposition to his griefs, his reasons to celebrate were a better cause.  So, I squinted at him, past my headache, and said:

“Well.  Yeah.  Everything happens for a reason.”

Not good enough of a response made my unhappy neighbor shrug again, this time definitely at my expense.  And I would recoil inside my very spine, but the elevator jolted and came to a stop.  First floor.  The ride’s over.  So was the confiding chat.

“Good luck,” he said to me, and started jogging across the lobby filled with that hazy sunshine that only LA-LA can manufacture.

I wasn’t sure why I needed luck, but I swear I thought I heard the city roll over onto her back again and whimper:

“Purrr-tty.  Am I purrr-tty?  What do you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

You may not work out for your every unhappy resident.  You may not live up to every dream.  But you do happen to all of us for a reason.  And somehow, everything does tend to work out.  It always does.

And everything falls into its place.

And everyone falls — into his.

But regardless:  You’re very pretty, my darlin’.  Very, very pretty.

Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.