It’s funny how my parents, right from the start, from when I first became aware of them, before the two other children were born, when grown-ups were huge, strange creatures, a different species, when my legs stuck straight out when I sat in one of their chairs instead of folding nicely over the edge so that they could be crossed the way adults crossed them – back then I saw my parents as in conflict, in a battle, straining in different directions and against each other.
I placed the blame on my mother and tried to make up for her limitations. Otherwise, daddy might leave. I knew he wanted to, could sense his restlessness and eagerness to be gone. And he did go. He was the one who got to leave. On business trips. With great fanfare – the luggage, the passport, the airport, his flushed excitement. He was the one who got to leave.
I wanted to leave too. Just like dad. And I did. First chance I got. Nine years old, eagerly showing up for boarding school that was trickier territory than “High Jinks at St. Claire’s” or “More Fun at Mallory Towers” had prepared me for.
So when my parents divorced in their sixties it was meaningless, just a signing of papers. But my father calls my mother every weekend. She sends him Christmas and birthday presents and a little extra cash now and then. They turned out to be together forever, not creating – well, they did create separate lives – but never really letting each other go. Maybe because they’re in separate countries they can be so close.
I posted the first piece I wrote this weekend, the one from Friday evening, up on my random stories blog. I titled it “Harrassment.” Within half an hour two responses had come in, both threatening. One says, “It’s only just begun.”
As I put the mugs out on the counter I noticed my hands were trembling.
I imagined them starting to harangue my mother. I even imagined the stress of it shortening her life. It will freak her out if she gets much wind of all this. She’s trying hard to glide through her last years making the most unnoticeable waves. She might have to take a stand. She might vote with those who think this is all very inappropriate.
Not that I’m not trying to glide through too. I don’t think of myself as a big outspoken person – I think of myself more as someone quite like my mother. Usually, I just want to get along. This has kind of happened by itself. The writing did it, and I do put the pretty much first.
I dreamed a couple weeks ago that an ashram friend greeted me warmly and then drugged me. I felt myself going under, knowing that while I was unconscious the ashram was going to clean out my memory, take my writing away from within me, and I struggled with every possible ounce of strength I had to resist them.
Last night I shot a man in a dream, held a gun, surprised him, pointed it at his throat and shot him right in his Adam’s apple. I thought it would kill him, but it didn’t. I had to kill this man. It was him or me. I beat his head with a pipe as hard as I could three times. He was down, but not dead, and I had to run away at that point.
I don’t dream much usually. Lately, the dreams have been big and real. They kind you always remember.
My pen stops. I lose the thread. I wait. I can’t find it. Should I go back to childhood and the parents, where I started out? But I’m not landing in a scene, just the same ribbon of scenes I always see when I look.
My mother, young, with brown hair, seated on the arm of the sofa, an uncertain smile on her face, two or three guest women on the couch, clutching chunky glasses, laughing up at my father who stands, holding their attention. While one of the husbands, an older man in a suit, shows me magic tricks with coins.
The Armonk house. The dining room table only used on weekends when my father is home, symbol of odd formality. Eating in the kitchen with my mother and sisters is normal life. My father’s arrival on Friday night, he steps in and shifts the atmosphere, puts me on edge, I have to be more careful now. I am watched. “What are you reading?” I know the question comes not out of unselfconscious interest, but because cultured people discuss what they are reading. They exchange ideas back and forth. They debate and I will not. I answer with two words, my shoulders shrugging even as I don’t move. Leave me alone, I am always saying to him without actually saying it – partly because I don’t want to hurt his feelings, partly because I am afraid of his fury.
Or the house in England, the way you could hang over the railing that formed three sides of a square – all of it tiny – and look down into the tiny front hall with its black and white tiles and here I am a child, my mother is alone, my sisters are little, and my father is mostly not home.
My room is red because of the floor-to-ceiling drapes that open and close with a string, my sisters’ room is blue, my mother’s is pink, my father’s dark green. It is a rented furnished house, like a doll’s house with someone else’s reality, a reality where the wife likes pink and has a kidney-shaped, glass-topped vanity table with a pink-and-white striped skirt covering its drawers. I liked that pink-and-white striped crisp shiny cotton. It was pretty. But had nothing to do with my mother who slept next to it alone for five years.