“Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“Tree Shadows in the Park Wall, Roundhay, Leeds” by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1872)

                   

“Life goes on grinding up 
glass, wearing out clothes 
making fragments 
breaking down 
forms 
and what lasts through time 
is like an island on a ship in the sea, 
perishable 
surrounded by dangerous fragility 
by merciless waters and threats.” ~ Pablo Neruda, from “Ode to Broken Things” 

"October Gold," by John Atkinson Grimshaw (ca 1880s, oil on canvas)

Saturday afternoon in my mother’s living room.

Another entire week has passed between posts, and the only thing that I wanted to do this week was to write. In the small interludes between television and other things, I have had no signal, so I sit here and play Spider Solitaire for a few minutes, hoping that the small icon in the bottom right of my screen will change from a big red X to a globe.

So this is the latest: My mother is much better; she is bitching at everyone about everything, so I know that she is feeling close to normal. She is even thinking about going to bingo. Therefore, I will begin gathering my possessions and making the physical and mental move two miles to my own home where my exceedingly patient spouse, son, and not-so-patient dogs are awaiting me.

The time is right for everyone. My back is pretty much fried from sleeping on couches and attempting to lift things that I should not lift. Each time a knot makes its way into the small of my back, I cannot help but flash on the face of the judge who ruled that I’m just fine, that I could go back to a job similar to one I previously held. Need I say my hankering to accost him verbally simmers close to the surface frequently these days . . .

“Meaning is not in things
but in between them.” ~ Norman O. Brown

"November Moonlight," by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Instead of measuring my days in coffee spoons, I find myself measuring the day by what my mother has on the tv: If it’s “The Price is Right,” it must be 11 a.m. I know that I have been here too long as I find myself shouting out answers to game show questions on the television, and immediately afterward I think, “who is this person?”

Today, though, I am taking advantage of this small break in predictability, hoping against hope that I can at least finish the written part of this post before my mother wakes from her nap and/or before I lose the signal I am pirating.

Truthfully, the past four or five days I have really felt the totality of what the past two months have brought. Not only is my back killing me all of the time, but I spent three days on the precipice of a tearful meltdown. The only thing standing between me and incipient darkness was the realization that I did not have the time or the luxury to wallow. That is not to say that I was pleasant, though, as I know that I was as prickly as a wasp.

I must say that this Oreo generation crap is more tiresome than people might think but for reasons that are not obvious: If I cough, my mother immediately says that I am getting a cold. I get out of the shower, and she relentlessly harps that I must dry my hair immediately lest I die of consumption (okay, a bit of an exaggeration, there). I made the mistake of grabbing my head in pain when a migraine seized me suddenly while I was in the living room, so now she is looking for migraine remedies on television medical shows.

I have not lived in my parents’ house for many, many years, so this return to parent/child communication in which I am the latter and not the former is quite grating. But I bite my tongue as much as possible. Speaking of which, the stress has found yet another route in my body: my mouth. I have ulcers in my mouth, and this current bout of thrush does no seem willing to abate anytime soon. Both conditions make food taste odd. No big loss there.

“So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Sound of the Sea”

"Whitby Harbour at Moonlight," by John Atkinson Grimshaw (oil on canvas)

I can identify at least one source of my continuing melancholy: Everywhere I look, I see things that remind me of the past, of my father, of my childhood, of days that were good and days that were bitter. I mean, it’s different from visiting your parents and coming across something from the past, and recalling a memory here or there.

Having all of my past infused into every waking hour has definitely culminated in oversaturation. For example, I have taken to hiding in the den, which is more removed from the living room and the television than my old bedroom. The den was actually not added to my parents’ house until the year that I married my ex, so that means eons ago. But the den has always been one of my favorite places in this house, and it was the room in which my father would take his long afternoon naps after his back prevented him from lying on the floor in the warm rays of the afternoon sun that seeps into my parents’ living room (a habit that I used to emulate).

Anyway, in the den is one of those tables that is made from an actual tree, knots and all. This table was brought over from the Philippines many years ago. On this table is a keep-all box that is also made from a tree; the outer edges are varnished bark. I was sitting in the den one evening, and these two objects caught my eye. I ran my hands over the gnarls of the table, and a shiver went down my spine. It’s that tactile influence on memory.

“Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” ~ Lou Reed

"In the Golden Olden Time," John Atkinson Grimshaw (oil on canvas)

This house is so full of memory—memory of anger and raised voices, discontent and disquietude. Most of the happiness that resides within these walls comes from the years in which my children were young and spent so much time here with my mom and dad while I was working full-time. Only with their grandchildren did my parents reach a kind of stasis in the long battle that was their uneasy marriage. 

The memories from my own childhood in this house are a confused jumble of both joy and sadness. It probably would not surprise you at all to know that I was a solitary child, not just an only child but a solitary one—a child quite content to spend long periods of time alone. I did have close friends with whom I would spend hours and hours on a Saturday just doing the things that kids do, but I also had many hours alone, and I don’t remember being particularly bothered by that, save for the few times in which I longed for a sibling.

But I remember months on end during which my father was at sea, and it was just my mother and myself. I remember going to the movies with her, before the days of multiplexes, and occasionally we would travel to North Carolina to visit one of her sisters and my cousins. Mostly, though, I remember being alone, reading.

Do not misunderstand, I was neither abused nor neglected, but I sought my own escapes from the constant thread of tension that existed in any situation involving prolonged interaction between my parents. Having spent nearly two months here as an adult, far removed from those days, I still sense that tension. Perhaps I bring it with me as it is permanently interwoven into memory. I really don’t know. I only know that I have reached the point at which I sense its omnipresence, and I long for freedom, much in the same way that I did as a young woman.

Thomas Wolfe was, of course, correct: You cannot go home again.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sarah McLachlan, “My Skin”

                   

Ode To Broken Things

Things get broken 
at home 
like they were pushed 
by an invisible, deliberate smasher. 
It’s not my hands 
or yours 
It wasn’t the girls 
with their hard fingernails 
or the motion of the planet. 
It wasn’t anything or anybody 
It wasn’t the wind 
It wasn’t the orange-colored noontime 
Or night over the earth 
It wasn’t even the nose or the elbow 
Or the hips getting bigger 
or the ankle 
or the air. 
The plate broke, the lamp fell 
All the flower pots tumbled over 
one by one. That pot 
which overflowed with scarlet 
in the middle of October, 
it got tired from all the violets 
and another empty one 
rolled round and round and round 
all through winter 
until it was only the powder 
of a flowerpot, 
a broken memory, shining dust. 

And that clock 
whose sound 
was 
the voice of our lives, 
the secret 
thread of our weeks, 
which released 
one by one, so many hours 
for honey and silence 
for so many births and jobs, 
that clock also 
fell 
and its delicate blue guts 
vibrated 
among the broken glass 
its wide heart 
unsprung. 

Life goes on grinding up 
glass, wearing out clothes 
making fragments 
breaking down 
forms 
and what lasts through time 
is like an island on a ship in the sea, 
perishable 
surrounded by dangerous fragility 
by merciless waters and threats. 

Let’s put all our treasures together 
— the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold —
into a sack and carry them 
to the sea 
and let our possessions sink 
into one alarming breaker 
that sounds like a river. 
May whatever breaks 
be reconstructed by the sea 
with the long labor of its tides. 
So many useless things 
which nobody broke 
but which got broken anyway

~ Pablo Neruda