Life Altering Moments
I mentioned life altering experiences the other day and some of you seemed interested in that topic. I sat down to write something that had been forming in my mind for a long time. Something intensely personal that happened over a series of years when I was younger and which has colored the way I view the world and human beings now. And then I decided I wasn't ready yet. But I did find something else to write about, which reads as third person fiction but isn't and which are culled from old hand written journal entries from many years ago. I had posted some of them here a long time ago, sporadically, and I thought I'd put them down here all together on a Saturday morning when not that many people are around to read it.
Why? Just something about this time of year, this weather, this particular, specific instance in time with this song playing and the sun hitting the snow just like that and the dust of memories forming patterns in my head and it's just like breathing out. In with the good, out with the bad.
And who knows, it may be one of those things I put here and then take down, kind of like diary entries crumbled and thrown into a ashtray or letters written but never sent.
Pretty much untouched, unedited from the original paper and ink thoughts. They are way too self-aware, heavy handed and filled with cliched imagery. But they're my words and they're not fiction, per se, but a conglomeration of moments, instances and scenarios set to some music only I can hear, and they're not meant to be pretty.
But they are life altering.
He brought her lilacs when she was in the hospital, lilacs from their own garden. If they were someone else, some other couple, it would have been a sweet, romantic gesture. But they were who they were, and the gesture spoke more of selfishness than anything else. She knew that as he was leaving, reluctantly, to come see her their neighbor probably leaned over the fence and asked if he wasn't bringing anything to cheer his wife up. And that's when he scowled and stomped and tore the lilacs from the bushes. He wrapped the stems in some tissues that were in the car. The tissues were probably used.
That was the time when she had some strange disease that made her hands swell up so she couldn't even tie her own shoes. And he still wanted to know where dinner was. She ended up in the emergency room, watching all her joints rise in slow motion. Her mother drove her. He wasn't home.
There was the other time in the hospital when she had a miscarriage - a slow, agonizing miscarriage that took a week to happen - and she had to go for a D&C and he was too busy to take her, couldn't her mother do it? His business involved not work, but things for himself. Her mother drove her to the hospital, never saying a word, never asking why. Her mother stood there next to her the whole time and when she came out of the anesthesia, instead of her husband standing over her, wipin She took her home and she never cried again about the miscarriage because it wasn't that big a deal, he said.
There was the one other time in the hospital, where she gave birth to their first child, alone and scared and having difficulties. But he wasn't there because he wasn't all that into the childbirth stuff, and he would just wait out in the hallway and they could come out and tell him when he was a father. And as she pushed and cried and heard the heart monitor shudder and stop and emit a monotone beep, and as she had oxygen put over her face and vaguely heard nurses and doctors gasping and yelling, he was not in the hospital at all, but down the corner, doing something for himself. And when she was rolled out of the delivery room, finally, with a red faced, screaming child, he was just coming up the stairs, breathless and a little ashamed, and her sisters were there already, holding her hand and smiling for her.
She sat alone at weddings and funerals and birthday parties because he was busy. Too busy for family, too busy for her. She slept alone in bed on the nights he went out to do stuff for himself, and she slept alone on the couch on the nights he locked himself in the bedroom, shouting at horses and screaming into the phone.
She dreamed of a funeral, of the pretense of mourning and of the guilty glee that came when the coffin was shoved into the ground. She fantasized about accidents occurring in the dead of night on the New Jersey Turnpike, car overturned, wheels spinning, broken glass piercing his eyes.
She dreamed of her own death but then shook the thought from her head and replaced it with dreams of flying. Sprouting wings and flying high above everything, the taste of freedom on her tongue. She landed in places that were not so dark, not so bleak and when she woke up it was always with the sinking feeling that her wings had been clipped. There were times, in the silvery light of the early morning, that she clung to the idea that the past few years were all a dream and she would wipe the sleep from her eyes and find herself in her parent's house, unwed, umothered, lifted from her bitterness. But it never happened that way and she woke every morning in the same house, the same life, the same bitter bed she made for herself.
But last night she had a dream. Again, she was given wings. This time the wings did not just sprout off the muscles in her back. They were handed to her. She looked carefully through the fog that was circling around them and saw the person who had handed her those wings. It was herself. And she knew. She knew what she had to do to fly.
They are leaving for Disneyworld in the morning. Not him. He didn't want to go. She is going with the kids and her mother and now the washing machine is broken, filled with dirty clothes and murky water. She leaves the machine like that and he promises to have it fixed when they get back.
She wonders what he will do while they are gone. No, she doesn't wonder. She knows. He will not miss them, he will not think of them, he will not be home when the kids call from the hotel room to shriek about the rides and the shows that filled their day. He will be doing his thing, like he always does, even when they are home.
Disney is crowded with families. Men and women holding hands, carrying babies, smiling as if the sun was shining just for them. They wear matching t-shirts and the men push the strollers and the kids have ice cream running down their chins and no one yells at them.
Everyone is happy in Disneyworld. Her own kids are beaming, bursting with energy from sunrise until way past nighttime, when she carries the little one onto the monorail that runs through their hotel, and he sleeps in her lap unaware that his mommy is plotting something that will forever alter his life.
They are on the Star Wars ride for the third time, bumping and jiggling and holding on for dear life and her mother leans over and whispers in her ear. You seem preoccupied, she tells her. I am, she whispers back. She gives her mother a knowing glance and just the way her eyes shift and her shoulder slump and her mouth quivers, her mother knows. She doesn't say anything else but nods a vague sort of approval.
And then a sunbeam breaks through the cloud hanging over her and makes everything bright and yellow and warm. She has said it without saying it, just acknowledged that it was on her mind and that broke the spell of silence that had been hanging over her for two years, as she plotted and planned her breakout.
For the rest of the trip, she avoids looking at happy, complete families, the ones that come in sets like some Fisher-Price Happy Handsome Family collection; Mom, Dad, smiling kid, smiling baby, never an angry word or a tear shed. She has stopped living in the dream where she is part of that collection. She has now become one of the discarded sets found at garage sales; the mom and kid and baby, smiles and daddy missing.
They come home and he picks them up at the airport. He doesn't ask how the trip was, if they had fun, how the breakfast with Winnie the Pooh went. He doesn't say a word. Her mother sits in the back of the mini-van with the kids and now she is embarrassed that her mother has to see the silence of their lives. She breaks the ice and asks him how his past week has been. He mutters something about it being nice and pleasant, spitting the words out as if their arrival home had destroyed the balance of his world. She doesn't cry, doesn't get upset, because she has that beam of sunshine slicing through her anger. It's coming, she says to herself. It's coming.
There's that phrase the straw that broke the camel's back. It's always a little thing, something as light as a plastic straw that can bring your house made of glass tumbling down, shattering at your feet. For them, it was the washing machine. It was ten days that the machine sat there, full of soiled clothes and gray water that was starting to smell. She asks him about it, wonders out loud why he didn't have it fixed. He shrugs his shoulders and goes in the bedroom and closes the door, and she goes back out the van and brings the suitcases in. She tucks the kids in bed and then proceeds to empty the water out of the washing machine, a bucket at a time, going from laundry room to the bathtub for each bucket, wanting only to lay down in her own bed and sleep.
And when she is done, she curls up on the couch and smiles to herself. Because this is the last night this fake collection of a family will present itself as whole. Tomorrow. Tomorrow she would tell him.
She remembers the dream she had about the wings. It's time to fly.
[almost three years later]
It is early evening in late summer. It's that moment between dusk and darkness, when the world is bathed in serious shades of blue, and the shadows seem to be debating about whether to come out or not. The stars are poking through the sky and the last remnants of the sunset have disappeared over the horizon, leaving one last streak of magenta trailing behind. She is chasing fireflies on the front lawn, her kids squealing and giggling as they catch one and then throw it back into the air and watch it take flight.
She is running with them, and giggling with them and it finally feels good. She spots a firefly on the far side of the garden and runs after it. It lands on the lilac bush. And she remembers. She remembers how she hates lilacs and the way they smell and how she attaches every bad memory about him to that particular lilac bush.
And then she moves away from the bush, leaving the firefly sitting there, blinking at her, and she runs back towards her children. She has cleared a hurdle. She did not let those memories weigh her down. She goes back to chasing fireflies until the ice cream man comes jingling down the block and they run after him, meeting up with the kids next door, everyone screaming for ice cream.
She sits down on her neighbor's steps and they watch their kids become stained various shades of strawberry and grape and orange, melting ices shaped like cartoon characters bleeding onto their smiling faces. She talks with her neighbor about the little things; school starting soon and summer ending, plans for Labor Day weekend. She feels a sudden surge in heart and almost doesn't recognize the feeling. Then she remembers. It's happiness. Contentment. Finally.
She knows she has passed some imaginary line. She has conquered the demons behind her and slain the dragons and landed her house upon the wicked witch of the west. She's not naive. She knows there are hurdles ahead, but she feels the trail of dead dragons behind her has given her strength and courage to take on whatever faces her.
Maybe she will meet someone who will want to face her challenges with her, someone who will stand by her side and hold her hand when the past tries to snatch her away. And maybe she won't meet someone. That's ok, too.
And just to prove something to herself, later that night she goes outside and cuts some lilacs from the bush. She puts them in a vase and sets them out on the counter. They have lost their spell. They can do no harm.