Not working takes practice. Even on vacation. And I’m not on vacation. The world of work is known and comforting: make a list, cross the things off it. The things are often difficult which is good because you feel better when you cross them off. In real life things are not only difficult but also mostly unknowable.
Things that are different from before:
- I know all the commercials on network TV
- I fill up my car with gas once a week, instead of once a month like I have for the past ten years
- Everything else, too.
We watch the Tonys together. For twenty years she was a theater critic, and not having seen everything up for a Tony is rough—when a play she hasn’t seen, or hasn’t seen that production of, is mentioned I see a loose, darting look on her face. FOMO is what the kids call it. Fear Of Missing Out.
During every commercial break Judy calls to see what she thinks of it.
“Silly! Hard to follow. I don’t know WHAT is happening!”
Judy agrees. Worst one she’s ever seen.
I’m freaking out because Fun Home is sweeping. I’ve been an Alison Bechdel fan since 2001, when I started working at Bloodroot and would read Dykes to Watch Out For on my lunch breaks. A colleague of Jacob’s is the lighting designer, and we saw it in previews, and of course I loved the book. It’s odd, to feel so close to something and watch it get so huge. When it wins best play I see his friend up on the stage looking shy and flushed and remember how after the show we got noodles together and he said how much he loved working on the show, couldn’t believe it had even made it to Broadway.
What would she be like if she knew we loved her and we’re happy to be able to care for her
What could she do / how healthy could she be if she relaxed into the care and love we have for her.
Her klutziness [[here begins a whine reprise from May’s blog]]: Glasses don’t make their way to end tables and shatter on the floor, zippers won’t zip ties won’t tie, she’s never taken the time to try to get everyday objects to do their work for her and how that she desperately needs them they fail her most and this incenses her. Can you zip up this jacket? Stupid stupid stupid jacket. I hate it! It’s broken!
She’s a terrible patient because of how nervous any sort of authority figure makes her (O, hippiemoms)—and in her world everything but the written word is an authority figure. She’s annoyed and intimidated by all of them. Remember, the nurse says, when I called and told you if you wanted to do both scans in one day you wouldn’t be able to eat all day? You still said you wanted to do it. It’s not going to be a very fun day.
It is not a very fun day.
She freely lies about how she’s feeling, how much water she’s drinking, the condition of her bowels, anything and everything to be able to go outside into the warmth, anywhere, away. You’d do the same, me too, blah blah.
“You know what I would hate?”
“Beading. All these people on my Facebook feed are so into making things from tiny little beads. Ugh, awful.”
* * *
When we go to get my mom to take her to Huguenot Street to get her CSA she’s weak. My brother tells me she’s been like this all day. When we get in the car I tell her I called her doctor and she wants to see her tomorrow. She is upsetguiltyangrysad. I can’t believe you have to go with me tomorrow. You have work to do. I tell her that I really don’t, that it’s really fine. My mother never ever cries, but she seems as close to tears as I’ve ever seen her. Guilt of having to be cared for, so much. It’s eating away at her edges.
When I moved out here it was to help you she says, now you’re helping me— that’s not how it was supposed to be.
“Mom, when you moved out here you are you had been diagnosed with cancer.” “No, I mean when I had planned to move out here. This summer—summer 2015. I’d planned to move out here so I could help you because you work too much.”
I tell her that all this guilt is literally making her sick and she looks hurt. The way this should work is that I should be thankful for her guilt and thusly we limp along. I tell her that it’s not helping anything, that guilt is not a helpful emotion. In short, I am a douche.
Later I bring her home and on the porch my brother asks me what I’m doing and since I’m taking her to the doctor all day tomorrow I tell him I need to go back to work and need to do a bunch of crap. He stares at me.
“Do you want to go to a bar together watch the game?” I stare at him. “I know you don’t like basketball.”
She insists on going to the circus protest. It’s…fun? Fun to be out in the world with her.
A lot of my days now are spent wondering if I’m weak or not / wondering if I’m whining too much, or if my life really is as horrifically packed and depressing as it seems. I make a lot of lists to try to figure this out, usually late at night, half asleep.
THINGS I SPEND MY TIME ON
In rough order of importance
- Mom cancer
- Running a business
- Paperwork / email
- Managing up to 10 employees
- Money management
- The actual work of being a chocolatier
- One million more elements
- People I love
- Cat caretaking (3)
- Food preparation for 2-4 people, depending on day
- Helping my brother in various ways
- People I like
- The secret project
- Property owning/homekeeping (3)
- Landlording (3)
- At home: pruning, weeding, hopefully new plantings sometime this summer
- At work: weeding, deadheading, harvesting
- At mom’s house: weeding, planting
- Keeping up with New Yorkers, books, OITNB, various
- Trimming bangs / outfit coordination / misc.
- Social media
- Meditation / therapy
THINGS I WISH I WAS DOING IN ADDITION TO / INSTEAD OF THESE THINGS
- Reading more books
- Foraging / being in nature
- Being alone
- Enjoying being alive / not ‘doing’
She’s doing radiation treatments. It’s a whole big thing. New form of radiation. Mega high doses, very focused. MSK has only done like 50 patients it. Less side effects. Could shrink the tumor enough to operate. Amazing because no one has ever said it could be resectable before. If not operable, it could shrink it enough that she can just…hang out, for a while. No treatments, just recovering, getting stronger, living life. Pancreatic tumors pretty much always come back. But the radiation will buy time, hopefully a lot. The word “years” is used. Amazing because lifespans of PanCan patients are pretty much always measured in months. If the tumor were a few millimeters over it would be too close to her kidneys and they couldn’t do this form of radiation, it would have to be the old kind: 28 treatments, every day for five weeks. This one is five treatments, every other day for ten days. Easy.
Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy
Memorial Sloan Kettering’s radiation oncology team is evaluating the use of an ultra-high-dose, highly precise form of radiation therapy called stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT). SBRT uses advanced imaging technologies, combined with a sophisticated computer guidance system, to deliver very high doses of radiation directly to tumors. SBRT is usually given in five or fewer sessions, allowing patients to return to chemotherapy or other treatments.
The radiation takes four minutes. The appointment takes 45 minutes, because if she’s not placed exactly perfectly…let’s not think about it. Beforehand they have to put a bunch of gold markers into her body. May the bridges I burn light the way! I think. Golden shining goalposts for the computer to follow.
Then they tattoo her. “Tattoos are permanent” they booklet helpfully says. She’s not religious enough to care, but Jews aren’t supposed to get tattooed. We are not our bodies, we are just souls god gave us to get around. This makes zero sense: if we are not our bodies, who the fuck cares what we do to our bodies? But the whole thing is moot because who even believes in god? But still. She says the tattoos don’t hurt at all. How multiple needles entering your body can’t hurt I don’t get but she never flinches, at anything, so.
As we’re getting into the car to go home from tattoo day she gets an email from her boss asking her to do a story about the Chicago Blackhawks, who just won [whatever thing whatever team they are could win]. Apparently they have some Jewish connection. The next week will be rough for her. I mention maybe telling her boss that she can’t do it. She sighs.
“I need to challenge myself. I need to work.”
Then she gets drowsy. She’s so weak and exhausted, sleeping on the way home, angry for sleeping during the daytime.
I think about the abuse that lead her to be so resistant to describing her pain.
It comes so naturally to her, to hide it.
I make dinner for everyone I love. Jacob’s in Europe but everyone else: Maresa & Mark & Kate & my brother & my mom. Roasted balsamicky portobellos with broiled polenta, garlicky greens, lush creamy tomato sauce, heirloom bean purée. Kate makes strawberry slushies, Maresa bakes my mom a pie and writes her name on it. We sit outside and it’s summertime. Because it’s the people I feel most comfortable with on this planet I tell the worst black-funny stories about my childhood: Miracle Man pretty much dead in the hallway, John DeLange sleeping in the limo he drove out front, Dee doing laundry while on meth and blind. My brother jumps in, “Remember when John DeLange said he wanted to marry you? Dad beat him up after that. You were like 12?”
I left Arizona and my dad was arrested in 1996, it’s 2015 and I just started being able to talk about it like five years ago. It’s hard to know where the lines are. When I get it wrong or my brother gets it wrong it’s ok because the people in my life I’m closest to will love me anyway. Do you have that? If you don’t have that you need new friends. It’s fucking amazing. I want you to have that.
The party is really nice.
The minute everyone but Kate leaves I burst into tears. Why not, I guess? It passes soon. Kate’s real nice about it. My gratitude for her is the ocean. How many times have I written these same words in the past seven months? Who cares. Still true.
So much traffic on the way to the doctor. So much traffic on the way home. Summertime Fridays on the highway everyone in NYC takes to get away from NYC. It takes us an extra 45 minutes to get there and an extra hour to get home. I’m not good at driving today, I’m twitchy and distracted. If I were by myself I would pull over and breathe for a few minutes, but it will worry her too much so I just keep on and get more and more shaky. When driving is rough it’s so rough. Stick shift driving in stop-and-go traffic. I stall out twice. The news is full of terrorism, I have no good podcasts to listen to, hate all the CDs in my car, my mom’s drowsy, not chatty.
I’m such a garbage heap that I don’t even go into work when we get back into town. I feel bodily unsafe, shaky, out of breath. I roll on my rolly ball to open up my lower back and shoulders and it feels so good I can’t stand it. The contrast from being so crunched up while driving untethers me. I do my meditation app and halfway through start crying huge huge sobs. It’s over in fifteen minutes and I’m all new. Fucking driving.
I call her and she’s crying. My mother who never cries.
“What’s happening, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, I was just watching the services for those poor people killed—these women were singing so beautifully, it was amazing. Even with all that pain in their community they were singing so beautifully. I turned the sound down because I didn’t need to hear the god stuff, you know? But I was just thinking about how horrible it would be, to be sitting in a chair studying the Bible and just be shot to death. They all seemed just like such good people. And my back hurts and I just felt like I was falling apart a bit there. Phew. I’m glad you called. I’m fine now. What’s happening with you?”
My brother takes her to her second radiology appointment. She times the Atavan meant to relax her for the 45 minutes she has to lie on a cold table with her arms over her head badly and it doesn’t take effect until she’s leaving, so she’s drunkly groggy for the ride home. Like me, daytime sleepiness incenses her. A strange combination: angry and lethargic. She texts me that they’re starving and it’s my special solitude day, sweet sweet shop-closed Monday, and I’m happily puttering around the shop getting all the things done, organizing my brain, fixing what’s broken inside me, and I tell her I’ll have lunch ready when they come back, to text me when they’re ten minutes away so I can have it all fucking perf like I do.
When they pull up the pasta is perfectly al dente and the pesto I made from Danny Bowien’s World Pesto Championship-winning pesto (the secret: ice cubes) and dehydrated Treeline aged cashew cheese playing the parts of both Pecorino and parm is softly lubing up their glutinous curves and the avocado and mango salads with preserved lemon vinaigrette is ready in the refrigerator in chilled plates and she is so Atavan drunk she can barely get out of the car and my brother pulls away the second she’s safely inside saying “I’ll be right back.” She sits on the couch and exhausts and I bring her plates of food, half of the salad ends up on the floor and the other half is uneaten and I know she doesn’t like salad these days anyway and I feel somehow I’ve done it wrong, again.
Nothing really to report about the doctor, but I ask her if he had any ragers on the drive.
“Oh well, you know.”
“What? He did. Oh god.”
“Oh, it’s fine. It’s just…oh who cares.”
“Oh you know how he is. Every time he gets in the car he gets into a rage, then he starts telling me how I’m a terrible person, should have left dad, I’m the source of all his problems, am so weak, never help him with anything, the whole song and dance.”
And whenever this happens I turn to ice cubes and she senses it and my instinct is to fight and hers is to prevent a fight because I am born from an abuser and she was abused and so we dance with our DNA like this. Me saying I’m going to fucking kill him, her saying not to say anything.
“Why shouldn’t I say anything? Why should he talk to you like that?”
“If you say anything, it’ll be like…” She puts on a whiny, pathetic voice “I had to snitch to you, I couldn’t handle myself.”
No part of me wants to fall apart into a puddle of tears. During these encounters, all parts of me are strong, calm, ragey but steely. Rage-calm is a thing. Later, and for hours, I can’t stop crying, but at the time I know I have the strength. That is certainly something.
He comes back. I don’t offer him food. He wanders around. My mother instantly snaps back, woozily, into her deepest self, the self that must placate men above all else. “Len, this salad is delicious. Do you want some of mine?” I tell him stonily that there’s some over there he could get. He doesn’t get why I’m upset.
“I’m upset because I cooked lunch for you and you didn’t even care enough about me to eat it while it’s hot.”
“Oh. What? I’m sorry.”
I have to remind myself a lot that no one, ever, has ever called him on his bullshit and selfishness. I’m the only one.
“Where were you?”
“What?” The anger is already rising in him, it’s always there.
“Where the fuck did you just go?”
“Why do you care? I’m not allowed to go anywhere?”
Later the person he bought weed from comes into the shop and remarks on how his poison ivy is getting better.
We’re sitting outside. My mom is on to ice cream and she keeps offering it to him. “It’s so good! Here, I have a lot. Have some.” Over and over. The desire to placate is so strong. Smooth Over, the only commandment. He snaps and yells that he doesn’t want any ice cream. She quietly snaps too: “What did I tell you? He thinks I’m nothing.” Because she brought it up I have license and I lay into him—why should she say that / what have you been saying to her / what the fuck is wrong with you. My voice is iced steel. He explodes, in the way I know like I know my bones, rage explosion in the style of my father, and my pre-working-on-it self: violent, terrifying to the marrow. His body vibrates with threatened violence. I haven’t felt this for so many years: someone exploding at me. I feel the childhood stomach cramp but I am so calm, I really am. He is screaming that she never did anything for him. I calmly tell him to listen to what he’s saying. He’s 33 and has never not lived with her, he’s never paid a bill or signed a lease, wouldn’t know how, has no job, depends on her for everything. “Mom has never done anything for me besides basic things” (housing / food!) “She never asks me how I am, she never helps me find jobs.” She’s quietly eating the last of the ice cream and saying things like “ok, everyone calm down.”
I am staring at him.
“If I ever hear you talking to her like that ever again, I will fucking kill you.”
He starts up the street with that rage-walk that I used to do. The longest strides you’ve ever seen, a sort of vibrating bounce, an anger-hover. He’s yelling at the top of his voice “FUCK BOTH OF YOU.” Over and over. Past the shop, across from the karate studio, past Pegasus, crossing North Front Street, walking up Route 32, we can still hear him, “FUCK BOTH OF YOU,” turning around and flipping both of us off every few steps. As he’s walking away I tell him that getting angry is OK, that it doesn’t mean we don’t still love him. Even though I just resolved to murder him.
She turns to me. “Well, that was nice.” I drive her home. I tell her I’m so glad at least we’re getting things out in the open. She’s so afraid of conflict, I love the bursts of clarity and honesty it can provide. I know the next step in the rage cycle is the hatred he’ll have for himself, and the intense sorrow, but after that I know there’s that window where you can jump ahead four spaces, into being a better person. Rage is the worst, but it’s a good teacher if you don’t drown in the self-loathing first.
Half an hour later I’m rushing around trying to clean up the shop before a Planning Board meeting and he walks in. I stare at him. “I’m not Mom. I’m not going to offer you ice cream. You have to apologize to me.” He does. Self-hatred phase has set in and he’s in deep.
“Look at my fingers.” They’re how they always are—disgustingly bitten to the quick, bloody stumps. “I’m so nervous all the time I can’t stop biting them. Even riding my bike on the trail I’m so scared and nervous I’m biting them.”
is more words than he’s ever said about his feelings to me ever.
“Scared of what?”
“What do you think?”
“Dad killing you.”
“Yep. Hey, I’m scared of it too. Still.”
“I think of things I never say, I’m so scared all the time, I just remember dad yelling at me and kids at school making fun of me.”
And we fucking talk. Can you even believe it. He tells me everything—he’s terrified all the time, sometimes can’t get out of bed. He knows he’s wasting his life but he doesn’t know what to do to stop it. Even Dad was doing better than he is, because at least he had a family when he was his age. Feels like it’s been a week, or a day, since he went to jail, not 18 years. I tell him all my theories, all the shit that gets me through the day, all the aphorisms and little sayings I use to get from here to there on days the panic and remembered terror start to rise up. He asks if I’ll come with him to therapy, and I say of course.
And we talk about the insane thing of him blaming my mother. He knows it’s weak to blame the person you can blame, because you’re too scared of the person you should blame killing you if you told them how much you hate them, how they ruined you. He knows. We talk the way two people who grew up in trauma talk. We let ourselves discuss the things we didn’t discuss at the nice dinner party the other night: the guns, knives, the casual violence and the more threatening violence. We let ourselves dissolve into the reality of our mother’s essential weakness. She will never help him find a job, kick him out of the house, get to the root of his suffering. She will only offer him ice cream. Take it or leave it. At one point he’s still sticking to the “everything would have been fine if she’d left him” mom-blaming thing and I quietly say
“Do you even know how many times he raped her.”
Neither of us looks into each other’s eyes for a while. A softness comes over him. He puts his hands to his face and says through his hands, “Oh god it was so bad for her. We don’t even know how bad, because we were just kids.” I ask him if he ever read the novel she wrote about it. “No. It was really bad, though?” “It fills in all the blanks. Nothing in it is fictional.” We sit in silence.
I have to go to my meeting but I come back at 10:45 when it’s done and I’m so tired I can’t think of anything but my bed and the tears I want to shed into its sheets. We sit on the porch and talk about his life. “I can’t believe I wasted all this time in Chicago when I could have been hanging out with you.” My heart beats with love and annoyance—I can’t be his mom, his best friend, his therapist. I’m so scared of him putting all his sanity-eggs in my basket. I tell him to make a list of ten things that would make his life better, that I’ll help him accomplish one a week but he has to do the work. He agrees.
I go to Kate’s place and dissolve into twelve thousand tiny pieces.
I wake up the next morning with my hands clenched into fists and with all the sibling feels: hatred mixed with sorry mixed with crushing sadness laced with endless fucking goddamn unconditional love, that thing I told myself I didn’t even believe in. My love has conditions, of course: you have to be good. Kind, soft. My brother isn’t soft or kind, but he so desperately wants to be.
“I would feel less nervous if you’d hold my hand, that’s all. Or the cane. Or the walker.”
“Why should I? I’m just fine.”
And she wobbles along. My arms make a protective cage around her, secretly, behind her back.
I don’t go into the radiation room with her, of course, and the nurse who brightly tells her “you know the deal—change into the gown in the changing room and I’ll meet you in the room” most likely assumes she remembers where the changing room is but her Xanax (better than Atavan? We’ll see)-enhanced sense of disorientation is such that I see her five minutes later, wandering around. “Oh! Gus! Do you know where the changing room is?”
An hour later high-powered photons have done their work. We’re back in the car.
“How was it?”
“Oh, it was fine. They asked if I thought it might help if they tied my hands up so I wouldn’t have to hold them, and I said it would. It helped!”
The image of her crucified on the cold metal table stays with me all night.
She goes almost nowhere, and it’s sort of fine with all of us. Safer. When I zoom out and think about it it’s heartbreaking—missing the beautiful summer, sitting in the dark overly warm house with a space heater on her feet if the temperature dips below 70. I see her once a day or so, we go for small walks, we eat small meals.
This week I’m just floating around. What I’m good at in this head space is gardening, so I do gardening. I don’t work much. I just ghost here and there. Not too worried about anything, just keeping on, unfocused. I’m calm. Not exactly happy, but fine. I guess I’m just waiting to see.
I go on little jogs with my brother, try to talk to him. Last week’s freakout didn’t make space for major behavioral shifts, how surprising. We make plans for me to come with him to therapy. Let’s get this fucking thing started, I think. This thing: him becoming a human being.
We are driving.
My mom removes the bloody tissue from the side of her nose and says,
“Quick quiz: in what short story does the protagonist sit in the bathtub and clean his fingernails with a nail file even though they are perfectly clean?”
“Hmm. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters?”
“Close! Zooey, in Franny and Zooey.”
My brother had called me at 10 am. “She fell. She blacked out. I called 911. Can you come over.”
And I’m thankful for the millionth time that I am five minutes away.
The paramedics are there when I arrive and she’s bleeding but it’s not too bad. There is a lot of cleaning to do. Some things happened. My brother can’t do it. I tell him if cleans the cat boxes I’ll do the cleaning and I put on a mask and gloves and soon it’s done. He hates cleaning the cat boxes more than anything and can’t resist grumbling but I hold up the garbage can full of What I Am Cleaning Up and he shuts the fuck up. She gets ready to go and I go home and brush my teeth and we’re off. The paramedics said to take her to an emergency room but she’s adamant about having her last radiation session today so reluctantly we go to Sleepy Hollow instead. I call her radiation oncologist and they call me back and tell me to take her to the emergency room. We’re halfway there and we decide to take her to the hospital at Sleepy Hollow anyway, on the chance she could still do the radiation. She takes half a Xanax in preparation and I’m clearly not thinking right. Later I go through this hour in stupid slow-motion and bitterly, hatefully regret every second of it. Why didn’t we go to the emergency room right away. Why did I let her take the Xanax. Why did we go all the way to Sleepy Hollow. We talk the whole way down so I can monitor her for slurred speech and she seems to be ok but I’m getting more and more nervous. I can tell the Xanax is taking effect. She’s sliding away.
We get to the ER and how do these things work? I thought someone would be there to help me, but no one was so she got out and stood against the car while I ran to get a wheelchair. I’m wheeling it back to her and I’m three feet away and I see her crumble. Crumple. She is a sheet of paper, she flutters downward.
On September 11th, 2001 I saw people jumping from a burning dying building to their deaths and what I know now is that the things that happen when you close your eyes you can’t always control. The people jumping. My mother crumbling.
I am now in a TV show, the kind I don’t watch. I am fucking screaming my brains out for help because my mother is in a puddle of her own blood on the ground. She’s not exactly conscious. She’s not conscious. In the thirty seconds while I’m waiting for people to come help she just lies there, sideways, crumbled. Crumpled. Paperly, fluttered. When they’re helping her up onto the stretcher she groggily calls my name. “Gus? Where are you? What happened?”
It’s worse than it looks that’s what I’m telling the self writing this down. Remember, how it wasn’t as bad as it looked? It was just that noses bleed a lot, Lagusta. It wasn’t head-blood, Lagusta. Throughout the rest of the day I will go into the parking lot to make phone calls – two of her doctors, my brother, Jacob, Kate, repeat – and I will see the rough semicircle of her face-blood. No one ever comes to clean it up. It’s still visible the next day.
I can’t figure out why I left her to get the wheelchair. Why didn’t I tell her to stay in the car. Obviously her falling is my fault. Everyone in my life tells me it’s obviously not my fault and I can see things from their perspective and they are being sensible but the thing is now she has a broken nose and a swollen face and loses two days to the ER and none of this would have happened if I had made sure she was still in the car before I left her. The inability to be a perfect caretaker swallows me up.
I do computer work and the day limps along in emergency room time. Chilled, blackminded. I send work emails for her. We sit and stare at the wall together. Her doctors parade in, remark on her so badly battered face, listen to the whole story, reassure me it wasn’t my fault, I start crying. My mom looks disgusted with and puzzled by the crying.
Jacob’s at a festival and the PA goes down in front of 20,000 people. The band doesn’t notice, keeps playing. Everyone’s yelling at him.
I am driving home from the hospital. They kept her overnight. Her face is bruise-blue. Peacock blue, midnight blue, navy, Prussian blue, it contains universes of blues.
The sky is amazing. My brother marvels, in his way, about “the forest” and by this he means the eaten-up thin wildernesses on the side of the Thruway. We are Phoenix kids. Green things and trees, particularly good thick old ones, are out of place. In Phoenix everything is new, planned, tidy, shimmering in its disgusting desert way. I still marvel at the way the road snakes through such folds of greens, too. It’s nothing special to an East Coaster. The sky is streaky pink and purple with distant blue and green. It’s misty. Summer sunsets on the East Coast. I wrap my heart around it, it drags me forward and out of my heart which is a pool of tears and my head which is driving-headachy.
My brother says, “Can you believe that, like, we spent so much time together as kids, then not much for years, and now here we are again? It’s like we’re kids but it’s not.”
“Yeah. It’s so strange.”
“It’s like…I don’t know how to explain it. I can’t believe we’re here.”
“Here, in New York, or here at all?”
“Like…I mean. That dad didn’t kill us.”
All of the sudden, we both remark on this all the time. I never used to think about it.
* * *
After I drop him off I sit in the car in my driveway and watch the sky until everything around me is the same shade of black.
But I’m not stupid enough to think it changed everything.
Forty-five minutes of rain and unchanging.
* * *
What is horrible
Carrying your mom’s wig inside
Looks like her disembodied head
Washing it, hanging it up in the bathroom
* * *
It is midnight on the last day of the month and I am in bed, eating pasta with pesto and reading The New Yorker. I’m in my worst hell: sadness so intense that it’s blocking productivity. I had a list of things to accomplish before July and my failure to cross them neatly off a neatly-made list is so distressing that I spend more time being upset about it than quietly tackling them.
I can’t really concentrate on anything without the image of her falling interrupting. My body is achy from being in the car so much and my brain is scrambled. Dully, I understand that nothing inside me is working.
I read The New Yorker to try to quiet my mind. It’s an exceptionally male issue, even for TNY. By, about, and, one has to infer, for. My sorrow at the magazine’s inability to diversify is filtered through so much other sorrow that it barely registers. But still: the contrast between the topics and voices I’ve curated my Facebook feed to show me, with radical queer groups like Against Equality and intersectional groups like Vegans of Color and my good and smart friends, and the endless parade of old white dicks in TNY is alarming. But whenever I try to read other print media I’m forced to switch back pretty much immediately. I’ve been a TNY reader since I’ve been a reader, and Bitch & Bust & make/Shift and & Lucky Peach and even Gastronomica (my other intermittent loves) are all fine but the quality of the writing in TNY is what I want to read in bed, every night. I’m not a great or even good writer but I am a great reader of great writing. So I read William Finnegan on surfing in Hawaii because I love surfing and even though the only mention of women surfers is parenthetical (((he never saw any at his home beach))) it’s such a good piece. And there’s an Art Spiegelman page and I love Spiegelman so much. And I’ll flip past Rushdie and a review of a new book about William F Buckley and Normal Mailer but Dan Chiasson’s poetry reviews are never to be missed and his words about John Ashbery are so good:
Ashbery is nearly eighty-eight; more than ever, his style is a net for the weirdest linguistic flotsam. Few others of his generation would think to put “lemon telenovela” or “texasburger” in a poem, or write these lines: “Thanks / to a snakeskin toupee, my grayish push boots / exhale new patina / prestige. Exeunt the Kardashians.” He has gone farther from literature within literature than any poet alive. His game is to make an intentionally frivolous style express the full range of human feeling, and he remains funnier and better at it, a game he invented, than his many imitators.
But still. There’s not much room in a day or a life to read that many words and if you only read words by men, famous and mostly white, you’re missing most of what’s good in life so I lie in bed and feel like a hypocrite and try to do my meditation app to calm down but the guided meditation keeps talking about listening to your breath rising and falling and the word falling brings the whole thing back to me. I try to do an unguided meditation and I just start crying.
It’s 1 am and I know what’s what: feeling your feelings is fine but sometimes the thing to do is ignore your feelings. I get out of bed and open my computer and take an online class for managers of food businesses on food handling safety that I’ve been putting off for weeks. Cross it off the list. One thing, at least.
My stupid tricks: when things are far from perfect, do something tiny to make them more perfect. Feel calm.
The problem with the tricks is that they work.
The problem with the tricks is they are tricks.
In the middle of the night I get up to pee and the wig, my mother’s head not on her body, terrifies me so much I slam my knee on the bathroom cabinet, my heart takes an hour to slow down.