May 19, 2003

step down

You have to understand that my mother does love me.

And I love her.

Everything in between is where we went wrong.

Not everything. That's not right at all.

Because different days I tell myself different stories, and sometimes within the same day I tell my self seven or eight or seventy eight stories. The place of story diversions today, the place where what I think the problem comes to rest, you know, this spot, no that spot, no over there, is the effect my father's death had on us all. That's the place I've hung my hat for a very long time. Today I was thinking about that hat hook again. Most of the day.

And why not. It's a big hook, the death of your parent--her spouse--a large ripe hook on which to hang a hat. Only recently, this year, did it even occur to me to look backward and forward from that hook, to look at the hook closely first, to notice how tarnished the brass was, take the hat off, turn the hat over, look at the brim, the underside, the smooth spots your thumb makes, rubbing cotton to a shine lifting it on and off your head.

And then I look at the wall that holds the hook, not just the scuff mark, but the wall, and then the adjacent door, and what about the light on the ceiling, look at the globe, and that bulb, I didn't see that before, and before long you're inspecting the entire house, room by room, looking for you're not sure what. The last thing you knew you were hanging a hat on the hook. And a voice says:

Don't forget the basement.

That's what I stepped down into this year.

Lots of reasons why. And none. All at once. Why would anyone choose step down? It's not something one chooses to do. Usually. We spend a lifetime looking up, climbing up, that's what we're supposed to do: up is good, down is bad, up is heaven, down is hell, like that.

But what no one ever told me was the secret of stepping down, not until Helene Cixous and her three steps which go not up, but down, because down to, coming to that place and then taking another step still downward, into excruciating pain, into shards of what you thought was so, to watch it all disolve, to marvel at the colors pooling from the slick that was all your life counted on--that's it. That's the place. And you can marvel at it. The magenta, the turqoise, and the deep deep black of it. There is beauty in it. If you live through it.

There's only one direction in the faces that I see
It's upward to the ceiling, where the chamber's said to be
Like the forest fight for sunlight, that takes root in every tree
They are pulled up by the magnet, believing they're free
The carpet crawlers heed their callers:
"We've got to get in to get out
We've got to get in to get out
We've got to get in to get out"
--Genesis


So back to the hat on the hook. I bought a book today called The Loss that Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father and how happy was I to see the title of the first chapter, The Language of Loss, and Maxine Harris' immediate leap into language--into a child being, first and foremost, "at a loss for words," when confronted with a shock so earth shattering that aftershocks ripple across the tundra of the psyche evermore.

I'd like to tell you more about the book, but I just got it. I've only started it. But I will tell you. Later.

That's not exactly where I meant to go, to my father; it's habit you know. I meant to go to my mother just now. About how that moment changed her. About how the sudden and unexpected death of her own father just three weeks after my father's was a thunderbolt of damage she never--not really--grieved, she never--not even now--recovered from. How none of that was her fault. How hard she worked to raise the three of us in the aftermath of tragedy.

I wanted to tell you those things. About how she was, you understand, my everything once our world exploded. My life depended on her.

And hers mine. Breath, words, and being. Everything.

And that is where survival turns to damage, where screams dream about crackling silence, where cameleon changes are practiced and honed.

That is where I lost myself to her mirror

And I lost me.

Okay, not lost really.

I've been waiting in the basement all this time.

"You've got to get in to get out."

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