Saturday, October 15, 2011

Joie de Jo?

English Jo is having a baby, a little nerdy baby with surely extraordinary musical abilities and terrible eyesight and a penchant for Americanisms with a London accent. This is such a good thing.

And yet with other friends of mine, the moment they become parents I tend to clam up and disappear. We all know I like kiddos; in fact, I usually prefer them to the bitter, non-curious, shut-off adults I run into much more frequently. I like watching a baby see things and hear things and touch things for the first time, because I want to remember that the world is always new to someone and there are good things in it.

When L. Bloom was new
But, there's also a part of me that feels I will never be a mother, never create a stable little nuclear family with a steady life mate and a mortgage and milk money on the table. I will sustain myself, not out of self-preservation so much as a keen sense of how much I would hurt others if I let myself fade. I will not be so irresponsible as to let someone love me, or create life with that person, or raise a child in such close vicinity to this omnipresent aura of poison that either follows me or is me. And so watching my friends creating their families, my brothers even, feels a little like a sick voyeurism and only makes me long for something I must not allow myself to have.

Turns out, however, that I still haven't learned one of the simplest and most repetitive lessons in life; I cannot control the feelings and thoughts of others. Influence, yes. Control... not even a little. Hell, most of my battles stem from my need and failures to control myself!

So a man grows attached to me. He doesn't know the depths of the shitstorm I carry around in my head, but he also doesn't mind that I'm dealing with one. He laughs with me and at me and worries when I have some small thing he can carry. He talks about "what we'll do for the holidays" in July... "When we move in together..." Not if. When. "We will have to figure that out," he says, like a man buying a slanting, leaky house with every penny he has in the world, simply determined to make it shine. And he has me thinking...

Monday, October 10, 2011

fragile stuff

Faded Roses, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Elizabeth was the kind of girl who would silently hold a grudge for a good long while if you, say, didn't say "please," when asking her to pass the potatoes. It wouldn't be the kind of grudge that turns into a vendetta, just a strong demerit in her overall tally of your trustworthiness and respectability. So, yes, she would take it personally if you forgot her birthday. She would find a way to mention it in passing to send a shock of shame through you on the sly.

I've been trained, therefore, to start feeling guilty right around the beginning of September. I start thinking of sending her a card or a little gift - maybe a cookbook - and then I think of how she doesn't accumulate crap, really. She has maybe a dozen shirts and washes and wears them carefully. She purges her kitchen, her library and her office regularly, gleaning only the necessary pieces. Every space she rules is elegantly composed and purposeful. How do you give a gift to a woman who has chosen every small detail of her life?

Well, almost. She did not choose to get pregnant while she was here in Boston and had several credits to finish up on her Master's degree. She didn't exactly choose to move in with her in-laws in Santa Barbara. She didn't choose to have her sweet cat served up as lunch to the local coyote. She most definitely did not choose cervical cancer.

I suppose that by now we know that I have the fairly human need to distance myself from things that hurt. I practically shunned my friends from St. Bonaventure after Shane died. I can't bear to speak about my mother's mother, or even go into the part of my parents' basement where I cried myself nauseous after returning from the ER. And here I am again, in full ability to communicate with people I respect and love, who supported me in my intellectual growth and personal flounderings, but I do not want to talk about jLiz. I won't forget her; no, I will curl myself around my guilt for every birthday I missed, for the times I didn't call, for not knowing how bad it all was. I'll cultivate and feed that guilt and make very sure it continues to sink its teeth deeper into my flesh.

I asked the Current Man in My Life if he noticed that I know a lot of dead people. Then I immediately said, "well of course you have. I keep inviting them over." How can I know what I'm doing and not stop it?

A few weeks ago, Labor Day actually, I snuck home on an overpriced flight to see family. Remember when this was a terrible idea for my sanity? Well, clearly, I'm old. And things have changed. Possibly it's this sense of entropy... that if I don't take every moment I can to see my nieces and nephew and brothers and parents, they will wither away and fade from me. The human body, it appears, is made of nothing terribly permanent. We are composed of fragile stuff.

And so I got on that flight on a whim, asking my roommate to throw a few things in my backpack and meet me at work so I could make the trip. My Uncle Maui was home on what he called his "Aloha Means Goodbye Tour." My grandmother Biv is 93 years old and pretty much takes it personally that we allowed her to get so old and worn out. She doesn't want to make it to 94. Uncle Maui spent days with her, just letting her bitch and watching her nod off while reading, sitting by her while she slept. He got infuriated and bored and fell in love with her - all the truest familial feelings a person can have. And he said goodbye.

I didn't see her at all because his time with her seemed too precious. I didn't want to interfere with this capsuled moment that I wish I'd had with Shane or Elizabeth or... well let's not list. But on the flight back I found myself thinking of her hands, my mother rubbing lotion into the soft, lax skin. She likes rose scents and rosy hues, and the backs of her hands are so much like rose petals after they droop on the stem. Soft, too soft, and fragile. The coils of your fingerprint seem to bite into that thin and tender petal and it wants to rip or fall.

I am so painfully aware of the ephemeral. I am aching for the strong people who, ultimately, fade and rip and fall limp in scattered petals.

Clearly, shoving this awareness into a tiny Box of Awful To Hide Away... well, it's not working. Not only that, it's created a sort of mottled lens through which I obliquely see the world, one that I know is beautiful and captivating but have not felt I could bear to see at full strength. I'm vowing, again, to be alive, in full knowledge of the complicated contract we sign when we decide to be hurt, overjoyed, ignored and thrilled and disappointed. I'm vowing to allow all things, again; to be a cog in the machine in faith that it will produce incredible joy alongside the suffering.

I will try, anyway, and I will tell you about it. Maybe you will hear me.