Money came to me in a dream. There was a cash machine that dispensed the same outmoded paper money and coins I had kept stored in glass jars for decades. Beautiful old Mexican peso bills, Irish 5 p’s, English pence, Deutschmarks, kroner, subway tokens circa 1979, wrinkled Ost-marks. Wealth and nostalgia flowed together. It could not be spent yet I was like Danaë, showered by riches.
pictured above: selection at Birkenau. A woman who refused to give up her infant is sent to be gassed. Had she given the child to an old woman (who would later be gassed) she would have been allowed to live.
Being alive seems hard and impossibly lonely. I imagined years more from my body (My sister is still lifting 50 pound bales of hay.) Most distressingly, there is no one that I love, who knows me well. Friends, memory and shared experience were nullified when I divorced. Years of wonder knitted, then unraveled before dawn. As if the contents of an immense storeroom were dumped in the middle of the house. How to excavate this steaming heap of the ineffable mixed with dung? It takes time to put everything away, to store some things to take out for my children, the evidence of 25 years, their childhood drawing, letters, pictures, films. Other things can be placed in a more remote location. It is impossible to discard. Some things fade naturally, thank god, only to be recalled unbidden by a photograph or a flash of recall. I was never timid or shy, and have experienced some wonderful things. I want them to bring a lasting feeling of happiness or satisfaction. Each conversation, each moment of distraction, twinkles and vanishes like fireworks. I pass time. There are things that will take up the day, bring it to an end with a semblance of dignity, as I see it. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I am utterly independent in some activities, others overwhelm. Not so bad a time as when I called Lucy to ask, “Should I go to the store and buy bread?” Or when I couldn’t get out of bed for a month. Nina and Mary and Lucy brought me food. I leaned so hard on them for months or years. I have no sense how long the bad part was, not brief. It exhausted, irritated, inconvenienced and bored them: the burden of me. My big social circle scattered and ran, like when bullets are fired in a crowd. The few that tarried a while have’nt forgotten or forgiven me for my helplessness and grief. I was desperate; I did not consider their feelings. No one thanked me for testing or expanding their compassion. Not like Jesus, not like Buddha. This is not the way it happens.
Too clingy, too messy, too often. Even desperation needs an executive producer. How can I say how I affected others? The only message is their reaction. My spectacularly abject collapse did not provide a transcendent experience. My sniveling alienated; it repelled. I no longer call and weep on the phone for twenty minutes. I have improved, but I no one desires my company. I try not to dwell on this. I have queered myself, as they used to say. It seems to have been a loss of yardage for everyone. And these are generous people! I forced them to give in an unbearable way, like taking a dying stranger into their homes, which hardly anyone does anymore, except in a foreign movie.Mother Teresa was said to be pretty fierce. They cannot forget that I for pulled them down. Mary is delicate. In telling a story, she inadvertently referred to a party at her house. She provides a gentle but awkward cover story. It was for her daughter’s birthday, those who came were the daughter’s friends and their parents, as if, in other circumstances, I would be among the first to come to mind. I don’t believe it.
A couple was invited for dinner. Years had passed since last I cooked for friends. In my former life fifty supped. My son dined with us, which spared me the shame of having no one else to represent my family. The table seats ten. The meal was excellent, but the act of preparing it undid me. Dinner for four?
My lukewarm friends. Am I to blame for my misery? There’s pain, but suffering is optional a therapist told me. I’m sad, immensely critical and irritated with myself. My brain chemistry has frozen.
An acrimonious divorce and freaked-out chasms. As I lay dying, a solid year of reading on the grey daybed. A way a lone a last a loved a long. Broke all my nails clinging on. A season of dating, tango, the house I made in the country. I experimented with coming forth by day: 8 months of volunteering in Chile, myriad prescription drugs, yoga, meditation, prayers to the universe, a weekly or twice psychiatrist, a holistic healer. Writing a memoir.
The freighter on which I’m bound docks at melancholy ports. At each stopping, something departs from me. T’was mine to keep. The past, what I am looking for, the past is gone. After the crying months, the depression years, I’m into dystonia, My life is without sustained pleasure. My reservoir of hope and joy has drained like the Aral Sea. Only my two children provoke pleasure. The feels like a long march through desolate territory. I am capable of ersatz pleasure. My circa 1960 The Joy of Cooking lists substitutes for ingredients you don’t have: baking chocolate: cocoa plus oil; stock: tomato skins, chicken feet or knucklebones.
Reading about people falling in love.
The happy times in my life:
Listening to the country music station at night in Roseburg on my crystal radio that hooked on to my metal bedside lamp.
Everything about Circe.
Going to sleep in the compartment formed by the drive shaft in the back seat of the Plymouth when we went on long trips.
Larry, Alyosha and Blackie, dogs and cats.
When I climbed into a rabbit hutch in Salt Lake City and sat with the bunnies.
Riding my bike.
Show and Tell, always. With a pair of new shoes, especially.
Boys liking me.
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, the warmest person in my life. The way she stood, bent forward with her hands on her knees to greet me on arrival, her expression of joy. The drip sand castles she made for me at the beach on Lake Michigan. Her gift of chocolate raisins in a white bag, one-quarter pound. Her stories.
A summer in Saltillo, Mexico. Alberto Amezcua.
Playing with Elissa when she was nice.
The cafeteria lunch in my grade school.
Driving my blue Saab.
Being taken out to lunch in Department Stores.
The Steiff toys at Marshall Fields.
Playing with my cousins. Badminton in the backyard, their fancy toys, a Brio train set, the experience of other people who had more.
My Steiff animals and puppets.
Alcohol, when I was younger. Didn’t drink in quantity, but I liked it.
Big dinners and parties
The married rabbi in Paris on New Year’s Eve.
Rarely do I see her now, my firstborn only daughter, Zoe. A child of some 27 summers, she occasionally walks unexpectedly or (if a date has been arranged) days late, smartly dressed, made up, counterfeit blonde hair arranged just so, shoes that might have considered fetish in Berlin of the 30’s: her attributes. Catherine’s wheel, Michael’s a sword and dragon, Apollonia’s teeth. She seems not that happy to see me. It is as genuine as it is.
I am instantly enchanted by her bright charm. Among all the people of the world there are only two that are my children. She is a strobe in my heart. No one in the world is so like me, and so foreign. We skate the uneven floor of memory and recrimination. Tripping over disagreement and accusations that and will never be resolved. We might happen upon a place that fails to support us if too much is said. This visitation is a matter of some hours, brief so that the surface intact. Her leave-taking is ceremony. She regrets but must go, her return is promised will not take place. She plays false, as is her perquisite, as one who has suffered deceit both real and imagined. The illusory now trumps reality, it has a life of its own.
The world she has fashioned constricts and opposes her. ( Admire wonder of this spontaneous construction, her own creation.) It bounds her within limitations that of attraction or necessity. She has been bequeathed the genes of fantasists. Like me, she cultivates thoughts that are destructive to herself, and other people. She has given over the reins. (But she is so young, so loved: money and privilege have been showered on her, such as I never even imagined as a child.)
Illusion drives her chariot. To Zoe, her life was a succession of betrayals, in recurrent themes: her parents deprived or misunderstood her; exiled her to boarding school. Filled with this resolute belief she proceeded, stoic and martyr, to the stake. Had her devotion been for a useful end it would have been remarkable in another way.
I thought, surely she was incapable of this caprice, she could not choose it. She could have easily passed ninth grade, she promised me that she would. Her teachers offered to compromise, just one finished essay. Was it an opportunity that she couldn’t resist, a statement, or an opportunity to dole out punishment to her parents, to the world.
Was there something significant and useful in her negation that I failed to notice? We dragged her away from New York and deposited her upstate. Perhaps there was another course to take, I didn’t know what else to do. Afterwards, Zoe enrolled in college twice, both times unsuccessfully. Facsimiles of her high school failure, repeating the same film. Now there is a sourness about her brother’s college degree, as if we gave him something that was denied to her. Her birthright of achievement diminished. She gouges at her skin where jaw turns into neck. Its a well ploughed field old picked scabs and scars caked with makeup. She won’t stop smoking.
In my mind it’s “the women of my family” but there are only four of us: my mother and her sister, my sister and me. My mother was the beautiful one, which she passed to us along with a tendency to overeat. (our athleticism came from my father). Ambitious, pushy, opinionated, stubborn, strong willed. We have charm, and accomplishments. We produce delicious dinners. There is something about our emotional set up that appeals in a certain way to certain men. We fall in love decisively, marry, have children. Our relationships are not without antagonism and tumult, because being naturally hot-tempered and quick to blame grate on the husband. My mother’s sister’s marriage to a prissy, supercilious lawyer apparently turned out well, but he died before turning 60. She is now 100, as domineering and critical as she seemed when I was a child, and an urban legend in the North Shore suburb of Chicago where she lives alone in a four bedroom modernist house that is distinguished by its shabbiness.
Nostalgia: as memories accumulate, what has passed from our lives, including our youthful selves, becomes almost unbearably beautiful and rich. Especially the province of women, as narcissism and ego are for men, except Vladimir Nabokov, Proust, Arseny Tarkovsky, Fellini…. to not feel nostalgia as you age is tragic.
On the current state of politics and protest in the US: too achy to stand and march, but my street creds include the epic 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, new HS grad. so much tear gas it seeped into the convention hall. waiting for this glacial generation to reach combustion temperature. smartphones: the opium of the masses.
In hindsight, my children grew up in a golden age. We enjoyed the mostly concrete play areas of NYU. The “key park” in between the apartment complex north of Bleecker served the whole neighborhood. Summer was the “water park” on Mercer. Sometimes their local preschool (New Friends) would take them to the small park where Green Street ends. All gone, excluded from the “key park,” the “water park” left to sink into ruin, locked out of the little park. Now it has become the dog run as the new NYU giant rises. New Friends is long gone, current tenant is Alessi. Hard to imagine community space for Soho kids once existed.
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