“But there are forces that don’t let you turn back and undo things, because to do so would be to deny what is already in motion, to unwrite and erase passages, to shorten the arc of a story you don’t own.” ~ Salvador Plascencia
Sometimes, I wish that I could go back, back to the time before responsibility, before emotional debt, before conscious thought. I will not say before pain because I know that sorrow has been in my life for as long as I have breathed. I will not say before sadness because I was a morose child, content to play alone with my dolls or to spend hour upon hour within my books. I was both content and lonely, if such a thing can be. But still I would like to go back, if only to avoid all of the times in which I have had to be the responsible one, the one to make the hard decisions, the life-changing decisions, and yet, it has always been so. Parent to my mother, I have been the one to assume the mantle of responsible adult, regardless of how much I wished it were not so. Old before my years, I have never felt young and carefree. Truly. Still, I would like to go back because there had to be a point in time in which I did not understand responsibility, in which I did not act in the best interests of all involved, in which I was purely selfish, and as such, I was perhaps content.
But the truth is that I do not know if that time ever existed. I do not know if I have ever eschewed responsibility. Oh yes. There was that brief period in my 30’s during which I attempted to run away from home, keeping my emergency backpack in the trunk of my car for those nights on which I simply could not face home, or hearth, or family. But in the end, I always came home. After spending the night in the safety my gay non-lover’s bed, I would return home, return to responsibility, having been freed if only for half a day. And yes, those days passed, too, and of course, there was the ensuing guilt for the times in which I had run away or wanted to run away or thought of running away. So the truth is that I have never really run away.
But I would go back if I can; just do not ask me to pinpoint a moment in time, because honestly, I cannot. In my mind, I know that there had to be a year, a month, a day during which I had no cares, had no obligations, no one’s needs to satisfy, no one’s heart to hold tenderly, no one’s sensibilities to tend. But truthfully, I do not know when it was. But I would go back if I could because going back would mean that yet again I would not be making the decision. You know the one. The decision that the time has come, that the suffering must end, that to do anything else is morally reprehensible, even though to do so is heartbreaking and soul-crushing, and to do so, to make this decision, to be the one to make this decision also means that I am the one to bear the burden of guilt for having made this decision.
Time and time again, those around me have had the ignorant placebo of never having to face such a task, whether it was my ex-husband, or my now-husband, or my mother, or my children. Those on the other side, the clinicians in white coats with sad eyes, they have turned to me. Every single time they have turned to me, and I have made the decision, and I just have to say that I would give anything, would give my corpuscles, my fiber, my sinew, whatever I have to not be the one who is responsible, and even more not to be picked out of the crowd as the responsible one. What is it about my face, my demeanor that tells them, “she will do it”?
Yet I know that I would not allow anyone else to bear this burden because my personal history reveals that I can survive it, as I have again, and again, and again, and again, with the child, the father, the crippled dog, old dog, the old dog that was not mine, the boy dog, and now the other boy dog. Time has been cruel to me, placing me in this position, even with my old friend, when I had to be the one to say, “she cannot live alone like this any more,” but perhaps cruel is the incorrect word. Time has sought me out like the beam from a lighthouse, hoping that I can offer a direction when the stars seem snuffed out, and it’s hard to see anything clearly. But I acknowledge this: I have survived and will survive because I have no other choice. I know, too, that I possess the cold detachment necessary to separate heart from head, if only for the few seconds that are necessary to acknowledge that the time has come for no more, no more extreme measures, no more needles, no more tubes, no more medicines, no more machines. The whoosh-click must be made silent, else we can never move into the next moment, the moment that is after.
So let me pause here: When my time comes, I want to be the one to make the decision. I would not have any other voice in the mix. Mine alone. Because if I can’t go back, and I know that I cannot, then at least I will go forward, and in so doing, I know that means that until my last breath I will be the one who shoulders the responsibility, the one who has the discussion in the hall with the sad-eyed clinician, the one who will then find a solitary corner in which to keen until my breath comes in short gasps, and my only wish at the moment would be to go back.
Music by Rascal Flatts, “Why?”
from Those times . . .
I lived in a graveyard full of dolls,
my body, the suspect
in its grotesque house.
I was locked in my room all day behind a gate,
a prison cell.
I was the exile
who sat all day in a knot.
I think of the dolls,
so well made,
so perfectly put together
as I pressed them against me,
kissing their little imaginary mouths.
I remember their smooth skin,
those newly delivered,
the pink skin and the serious China-blue eyes.
They came from a mysterious country
without the pang of birth,
born quietly and well.
When I wanted to visit,
the closet is where I rehearsed my life,
all day among shoes,
away from the glare of the bulb in the ceiling,
away from the bed and the heavy table
and the same terrible rose repeating on the walls.
I did not question it.
I hid in the closet as one hides in a tree.
I grew into it like a root
and yet I planned such plans of flight,
believing I would take my body into the sky,
dragging it behind me like a large bed.
And although I was unskilled
I was sure to get there or at least
to move up like an elevator.
With such dreams,
storing their energy like a bull,
I planned my growth and my womanhood
as one choreographs a dance.
I knew that if I waited among shoes
I was sure to outgrow them,
the heavy oxfords, the thick execution reds,
shoes that lay together like partners,
the sneakers thick with Griffin eyewash
and then the dresses swinging above me,
always above me, empty and sensible
with sashes and puffs,
with collars and two-inch hems
and evil fortunes in their belts.
I sat all day
stuffing my heart into a shoe box,
avoiding the precious window
as if it were an ugly eye
through which birds coughed,
chained to the heaving trees;
avoiding the wallpaper of the room
where tongues bloomed over and over,
bursting from lips like sea flowers —
and in this way I waited out the day
until my mother,
the large one,
came to force me to undress.
I lay there silently,
hoarding my small dignity.
I did not ask about the gate or the closet.
I did not question the bedtime ritual
where, on the cold bathroom tiles,
I was spread out daily
and examined for flaws.
I did not know
that my bones,
those solids, those pieces of sculpture
would not splinter.
I did not know the woman I would be
nor that blood would bloom in me
each month like an exotic flower,
nor that children,
would break from between my legs
two cramped girls breathing carelessly,
each asleep in her tiny beauty.
I did not know that my life, in the end,
would run over my mother’s like a truck
and all that would remain
from the year I was six
was a small hole in my heart, a deaf spot,
so that I might hear
the unsaid more clearly.